Cementing a long and successful association, Alan Ayckbourn’s Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, have now officially formed a partnership to produce two major productions a year. This prolific playwright’s new play Sugar Daddies (amazingly, his 64th - the 68th already now in the pipeline) was seen in Guildford earlier this year and now it’s the turn of Season's Greetings, a revival of Ayckbourn’s 1980 comedy directed by the author himself.
If the title doesn’t give the yuletide timing away, the splendid Christmas tree does in Roger Glossop’s excellently designed country house set, where the walls cut away to reveal hall, staircase, living room, dining room and preparations in full force for a ‘real family Christmas’. But what happens when family are thrust together to enjoy themselves – and all for the sake of the children too?
Belinda (Liza Goddard) is annoyed with husband Neville (Bill Champion) who has forgotten to buy her a present – again. Ex-security guard Uncle Harvey (Terence Booth) is enjoying an old and violent film on TV, delighting in pointing out how many of the actors are deceased, and has bought all the children guns for Christmas.
Phyllis (Eliza Hunt) is ruining dinner in the off-stage kitchen – and nearly finishing herself off in the process - and her doctor husband Bernard (Matthew Kelly) is intent on performing his annual puppet show. Meanwhile, Belinda’s uptight sister Rachel (Alexandra Mathie) has invited her friend and boss, author Clive (Matthew Cottle) for the festivities.
Little does he know what he’s letting himself in for! Just a normal family Christmas? Not quite. Sex, jealousy, suspicion and frustrations enter the picture. All right so far, but attempted murder is not a typical ingredient.
In this production, there are good performances from the cast of Ayckbourn stalwarts, although the normally excellent comic actress Alison Pargeter has little chance to shine as a simple-minded, downtrodden wife. Both her role and that of her husband, played by Jason Baughan, seem a little superfluous to the frenzied proceedings.
Still, nearly 25 years on, Season's Greetings remains a little piece of light-hearted frivolity, with some amusing and pertinent dialogue. It should do especially well on the road in the run up to Christmas – it’s touring until 11 December (See News, 20 Jul 2004) - especially as audiences will doubtless recognise something of their own family in the characters. On the night this reviewer attended, it was very much appreciated by Guildford’s capacity audience.
- Sheila Ann Connor (reviewed at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford)