According to Cliff Richard, Christmas is a time for mistletoe and wine. It’s a time to rejoice, with logs on the fire and gifts on the tree. Clearly, he has never seen Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings, which depicts a dysfunctional family Christmas that most audience members can identify with.
There is plenty of wine… in the hands of the alcoholic sister, Phyllis, who is left in charge of cooking the Christmas dinner. As for the gifts under the tree, cantankerous uncle Harvey decides to buy the children guns. What could possibly go wrong?
Once again, Nigel Machin creates a set that looks wonderful and utilises the restricted space perfectly. Creating a homely living area, the stage design effectively divides the house into separate rooms by using different levels. The living room, hallway, and dining room are all designated by raised steps, with the kitchen remaining off stage. There is a staircase at the rear of the stage, efficiently providing an additional exit for the characters.
Machin’s set designs are always brilliant, with exquisite attention to detail. Season’s Greetings is no different. The house is decorated with festive garlands. Christmas cards adorn the walls, and a large Christmas tree dominates the living area. The Bunker house is warm, cosy, and Christmassy. Unlike its inhabitants.
The family in Ayckbourn’s play is utterly dysfunctional, with several problematic marriages. Tim Collier and Alexandra Severn are superb as the Bunkers, who spend most of the play bickering amongst themselves. I particularly enjoy the way Collier emphasises the word “darling” in a dry, sarcastic way. Meanwhile, Severn brilliantly renders a wife who puts on a smile, but is internally simmering with vexation. Delivering some of her dialogue through gritted teeth, it is clear that she would love to throttle her husband.
Bill Platt is excellent as the sardonic uncle Harvey, delivering some cracking one-liners. Eleanor Ford certainly doesn’t disappoint as Phyllis, who spends most of the play inebriated. Spending the first ten minutes off-stage, her conduct is reported through several trips to the kitchen, building anticipation to meet this drunken sister. She is well worth the wait. From the moment she enters, Ford is a delight to watch.
However, it is Martin Hulme who steals the show as failed husband, doctor, and puppeteer, Bernard. Every year, he treats the children to a puppet show, with handcrafted animals. This year, it is Three Little Pigs. The care and severity with which he treats his puppets borders on obsessive, and is strangely endearing. The show itself is a comedic masterpiece, brilliantly performed. Hulme even does all the voices, making it even more hilarious. It is the highlight of the show, and I would certainly pay to watch the puppet show alone!
Sadly, the scene changes are a little long, spoiling the pace of the play’s comedy. I believe the musical selection of the slow Christmas carol, Silent Night, which accompanies them makes the transitions feel even more prolonged. Although I appreciate the irony of choosing this song in a play where the opposite is true, a more upbeat Christmas song could make the scene changes seem shorter, keeping the lively pace of the play intact.
Despite this, Northenden Players have staged another cracking piece of theatre. This theatre company are a fantastic example of how local, amateur theatre can be just as entertaining as mainstream productions, for a fraction of the cost.
Their next play is Ladies in Lavender in February. You can find more information on their website.