Writer: Kitty Hughes
Director: Duncan Hallis
Creative Producer: George Soave
Designer: Ceci Calf
Lighting Designer: Garrin Clarke
Sound Designer/Composer: Matthew Holmquist
Reviewer: Emily Pearce
The Other Room is fast garnering prominence as one of Cardiff’s most innovative theatre venues, with regular touring productions from the Edinburgh Fringe and other small theatre companies. Big Loop Theatre Company’s new production Cheer, written by Kitty Hughes, is another play with great potential, with some refinement required to take it up to the levels expected of this venue.
With a short running time of 85 minutes, Cheer is a two-man play detailing in a dystopian parallel reality, one where Christmas is a celebration only for the rich, with all Christmas paraphernalia being banned unless you can accrue an expensive license. In a society with a widening gap between the super rich and poor, there is booming trade in dealing contraband Christmas baubles and other decorations, as well as a roaring black market for the drug Cheer, which mimics the ‘effects’ of Christmas for those that will never get to experience it – if only for a few minutes.
It is here we meet Jules (Alice Downing), a black market trader and license forger, who has escaped their former wealthy life. She encounters impoverished Todd, played with easy-going charm by Cory Tucker, who is desperate to get his hands on one of her forged licenses and offers Cheer as a bargaining tool. As a pure study into the effects of drugs, Cheer is excellent and both actors present a truly convincing and realised spiral of a night that takes a sudden turn. Alice Downing, in particular, gives a standout performance as a lonely woman slowly losing control.
It’s an impressive construct, and in general, the dystopia is finely realised, with simple but effective design by Ceci Calf. Bookshelves are transformed to winter wonderlands at a twist, and Christmas never looked gaudier as the play delves into the excesses of the rich in their month-long Chrismas celebration. The writing falls down a little in the latter half of the play. It is never explored deeper why Todd so desperately wants to celebrate Christmas when he also loathes the rich – it would have been good to see a little more nuance and development in his character. As a result, the performance never really goes beyond reacting – it would have been enjoyable to see the initial charm of the character dissipate as the mask slips. A particular scene in which both characters compete for who is the most miserable, the rich or the poor, also seems a little trite, particularly when neither character invites much pathos prior to this.
Cheer is not quite the finished article – a really interesting insight into the excesses of Christmas, which could reach the full ’12 Days of Christmas’ with just a few small changes and edits.
Runs until 15th December 2018 | Image: Contributed