With a title like A Kick in the Baubles and the promise of “a feast of festive fun”, the wary punter is entitled to fear an evening pitched somewhere between pantomime and Bernard Manning. Such a view proves totally unfounded in Gordon Steel’s new play for Hull Truck. Despite the caricatured neighbours from hell and the obligatory drunken karaoke scenes, A Kick in the Baubles is often very funny and has the warmth and humanity to make the sentimental ending seem appropriate and convincing.
The story is played out in a series of short scenes that vary from black-out sketches to more substantial, even dramatic episodes, telling of Jean and Frank’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Their own problems centre on his redundancy and her complex feelings of guilt and resentment over their daughter’s acrimonious departure from home. Specially imported Christmas problems include her rich and snobbish sister, Doreen, with husband Harry, and the young grotesques next door with their karaoke machine.
A fair bit of narrative ground is covered for both the older couples and their daughters. Only the neighbours stay unchanged and two-dimensional, the energetic Chris Connel making the most of their unrelenting comedy of exaggeration. The versatile Natalie Blades, cast in the thanklessly over-the-top role of the wife, brings, respectively, the humour of innocent self-obsession and a touching sincerity to the roles of the two daughters.
Whilst recycling some old favourites, the script has a nice line in daft surrealism (the advent calendar bought in Grimsby has all the windows boarded up – a touch of trans-Humber mockery) and develops its running gags expertly.
Key to the success of the play is Frank, played with a rumpled amiability by Robert Hudson. At first apparently a selfish, lazy sort of chap with a degree in political incorrectness, he gradually emerges as the sane link between the audience and the action, with a winning “Is it me?” approach to his confidences. Jackie Lye accurately charts Jean’s progress from cheerful Christmas-lover to a mass of tensions and neuroses, as does Jason Furnival with Harry’s retreat from self-made smugness. In a bravura performance as Doreen, Christine Cox projects her dreadful certainties of superiority to all and sundry, growing ever more vitriolic as drink takes hold and her world crumbles around her.
Gareth Tudor Price’s production sets a rollicking pace from the start and, like Pip Leckenby’s space-efficient set, is crammed with quirky details that just avoid getting in each other’s way.