It is Christmas Eve and Belinda and Neville have invited their family and a couple of friends to stay. The guests include: Neville’s exhausted sister Phyllis; her husband Bernard, a doctor whose annual puppet shows are the stuff of legend and terror to both young and old alike; Neville’s friend Eddie and his pregnant wife Pattie; uncle Harvey, a slightly senile retired security guard and television-addict; Belinda’s unmarried sister, Rachel and her latest beau, Clive, a writer. Like every family Christmas, tensions are running high. Belinda and Neville’s marriage seems to be on the rocks, Phyllis is creating havoc in the kitchen by insisting on cooking the entire Christmas Eve dinner single-handed, Harvey is monopolizing the TV, Pattie is blaming Neville for not having promoted her husband and Rachel hasn’t had sex in months. The awful prospect of Bernard's puppet show hangs over everything.
Clive’s train is late, is missed at the station by Rachel, and he is instead welcomed by Belinda, who is immediately attracted to him. Harvey, as a result of a misunderstanding, takes an immediate dislike to Clive, believing him to be a homosexual and prospective thief. Clive falls for the frustrated Belinda after Rachel tells him she is looking for no more than friendship. He and Belinda attempt to fulfill their passions beneath the Christmas tree, but are discovered when they set off the various electronic toys and lights beneath the tree in, initially, their lust and then their desperate attempts to turn everything off.
On Boxing Day, Clive arranges to leave as soon as he can. Meanwhile, rehearsals are taking place for Bernard’s puppet show The Three Little Pigs, all his efforts being undermined by Harvey. Bernard eventually snaps and tirades against Harvey. Very early the following morning, Clive, in the process of leaving, is intercepted by Harvey who believes he is a thief taking all the presents. Harvey promptly shoots Clive, who is pronounced dead by the ineffectual Bernard. The ‘corpse’ promptly lets out a moan and calls for Belinda, rather than Rachel. He is taken to hospital and Belinda and Neville are left together, Neville choosing to ignore all that has happened. Merry Christmas!
Neville Bunker – Neil Stuke
Belinda, his wife – Catherine Tate
Phyllis, his sister – Jenna Russell
Bernard, her husband – Mark Gatiss
Rachel, Belinda’s sister – Nicola Walker
Harvey, Neville’s uncle – David Troughton
Eddie – Marc Wooton
Pattie, his wife – Katherine Parkinson
Clive – Oliver Chris
Written by – Alan Ayckbourn
Director – Marianne Elliott
Designer – Rae Smith
Lighting- Bruno Poet
Music – Stephen Warbeck
I actually wanted to go and see Cinderella, it being my birthday and all. You know, birthdays – the one time of the year when people actually ask you what you would like to see. But instead, Him Indoors calmly announced that he’d bought tickets for Season’s Greetings instead. So, feeling old and crotchety, I was dragged off through the snow and ice to see a play by a writer whose work I find unremittingly grim (not for nothing was the working title of this play In the Bleak Midwinter) and who, in my blinkered view, runs Tennessee Williams and Harold Pinter a close third for the title of “Dirge master”. In fact, halfway down the stairs at the National afterwards, I turned to Him Indoors and said “Do you think people will come and see this just because Catherine Tate’s in it?” Him Indoors (Finalist, Left Side, World Ear Wax Championships) didn’t hear me and instead I got an answer from the bloke going down the stairs in front of me, who turned and said “Why else would you come and see it?” Pretty good question, actually. Several possible responses flashed through my mind, including “Oh, someone’s obviously a big fan”, “Some of us didn’t get given the choice” and “What do you think you look like in that jacket?” but the one that popped out of my mouth was “Certainly not to go home afterwards feeling jolly, that’s for sure”. Because by ‘eck (as they say in Scarborough), not far under the glittery surface of Season’s Greetings there is a dreadfully bleak story. To use a meteorological metaphor, its just like a patch of black ice lurking underneath the pretty dusting of snow onto which you are about to plant your boot. And it’s a story that we can all relate to – The Awful Christmas. Which I suppose is why on the surface, this play is very funny, because to a greater or lesser extent, we’ve all been there. We can all tell stories, hilarious in retrospect, about The Christmas From Hell (in fact, to get things going, I want everyone who reads this review to leave a comment on the subject of “The Worst Christmas Present I Ever Received” or, f you really want to examine your conscience,” The Worst Christmas Present I Ever Gave”).