Writer: Marie Jones
Director: Dan Gordon
Reviewer: Kevin McCluskey
When it comes to Christmas, television has renewed prominence in the public imagination. Aside from watching the 5000th broadcast of The Wizard of Oz in a semi-daze or observing the oddly macabre tradition of soap opera’s killing of a beloved character on Christmas Day, there are also the special Christmas episodes of TV shows, festive sketch shows, and countless talking head programmes looking back on the year with fondness.
Marie Jones’s Mistletoe and Crime, now on the Lyric’s Danske Bank Stage, resembles those sketch shows merged with the sentimentality of annual recap shows. Following PSNI officers Aileen (Katie Tumelty) and Sue (Tara Lynne O’Neill) through a night in Belfast on Christmas Eve, the show relies heavily on the other five actors playing a variety of rôles, from an eccentric homeless man begging to be arrested to an old lady who calls the police in search of a fruit loaf. There’s an element of the school play to the proceedings, with recordings of out of tune instruments butchering holiday standards playing as painted flats descend, decked out in fairy lights and containing doors for characters to pop their heads through. Stuart Marshall’s witty set helps enormously at maintaining a brisk pace, with a revolving set-piece at the back used to transform the space from the front desk at the police station to numerous other locations around Belfast. Paul Keogan’s lighting was generally effective, although the use of a flashing white light amid a blue wash (to denote the movement of the police car through the city) as O’Neill and Tumelty stood still was at times distracting, obscuring the actress’s faces and distracting from the dialogue.
Though there are several throughlines, such as the QC looming over the two women in search for his mother, and the ongoing shenanigans of the homeless man Haribo in his journeys from the parks to the top of the Christmas tree at city hall, for the most part the show feels episodic. Like a sketch show, there are mixed results, with some characters and incidents being stronger than others. Jokes about The Stephen Nolan Show and humour very specific to certain areas of Belfast dominate. Erin Charteris’s costumes are wonderful at evoking a vast array of characters. In particular her costumes for Christina Nelson help the actress walk off with all of her scenes. Like Jennifer Saunders or Catherine Tate, Nelson noticeably revels in the quick change to other characters. She handles the sometimes difficult shifts in tone with ease, delivering a poignant speech as a woman seeking escape from her old life in the arms of a younger man, conveying the desperation in her life before walking off with ‘I may be going, I’ve a turkey to prepare’. Nelson moves from this character to the mix of sadness and stubbornness of Mrs Moorehead, draped in a shawl and wearing a white wig as she portrays this elderly woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and then on to playing a teenage girl, swathed in hot pink and sporting reindeer antlers and speaking in social media clichés, with hashtags and ROFLMAO’s and all the rest peppering the dialogue.
Though some jokes wear thin and other characterizations lack the same skill, the show is nevertheless entertaining, and the madcap irreverent antics prove to be an effective bit of counterprogramming to the wealth of pantomimes currently on offer.
Photo courtesy of the Lyric Theatre. Runs until January 11th.