NOTE: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from November 2005 and this production's initial season at the Contact Theatre in Manchester.
Christmas Day can provide us all with a variety of emotions; the loss of a loved one can come flooding back and there is often the nagging feeling that everyone is having a better time than you. Writer Linda Brogan has crafted an unflinchingly realistic slice of life, a gift to any actor, set on 25th December in Moss Side, 1974.
Daughter Lauren arrives home heavily pregnant. But her mother and father are at war- too busy arguing to give her the attention and love that she craves. Her brother Peter lies in front of the TV, spellbound by the sounds and the images. But when you witness the violence which surrounds his unstable environment, you realise why the box in the corner of the room offers the young lad some sort of sanctuary.
Mary Jo Randle evokes sympathy as Margaret, the drunken Irish mum of two, when she could have so easily turned her into a caricature. This gifted actress displays physical prowess during the fight scenes and pent up emotion when confronted by her past and present. Rachel Brogan plays Lauren with a real hard edge very effectively and her scenes with Margaret are the best in the piece and frighteningly real. The dialogue is often shocking, raw and at times very funny. Brogan's excellent writing is loaded with sarcasm and is delivered to the audience like bullets, leaving them stunned at the naked emotion on display.
David Webber's quiet father has very little dialogue compared with everyone else but his defeatist body language speaks volumes. Likewise, Curtis Cole imbues young Peter with a sense of wishfulness. Each time he comes up for air after a diet of festive movies, the character longs for things to return to normal with tears rolling down his face.
James Farncomber's excellent stark lighting complements Paulette Randall’s assured direction. This excellent play reminded me of the work of Mike Leigh. The characters are not mere imitations, though. They are fully fleshed out, flaws and all, and this provides the audience with real resonance as loyalties constantly change.
Granted, this is not the happiest play you will see this year. But with reality TV hogging the headlines, this authentic look at family life in the 1970's will provide you with a real shot of adrenalin.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Contact Theatre, Manchester)