Writer: Eden Tredwell
Director: Jack Bence
Christmas. The season of peace, goodwill and frantic shopping. And what about the Unexpected Guest? Eden Tredwell and the Iris Theatre Company have the solution. Put on a show. Better still, if you’re that kind of family, recycle a Nativity play from your childhood. The obvious downside is that it will lead to a recycling of sibling dynamics, but if everyone is ‘just the right amount of drunk’, who cares?
The show, which centres on the performance of the home-written play, turns the whole audience into an implausibly (indeed ill-advisedly) large family gathering. We know tantalisingly little about this family. A couple of cousins are name-checked (on projector and piano), as is the inconveniently last -minute Nana Sue. Apparently it may be her last Christmas – in which case an experienced relative might point out they’ll need a present for a carer as well. Worryingly, Dad is said to have disappeared ‘for a rest’ halfway through. There is enough of interest in the siblings themselves and this extra note of disquiet is unnecessary.
With limited space and time, Jack Bence directs a lively show with swiftly changing moods. Sarah Whitehouse as Laura, the sensible older sister, is comic as a makeshift angel and touching when she describes the enormous strain of her working life, although at times she overdoes the desperate ‘show must go on’ smiling. Similarly, Charlie Archer starts exaggeratedly ebullient as Blake, the brother, but, after draining a bottle or two, he deflates into a sympathetic character with problems of his own. Laura Piggott has the most fun as Mia, the youngest. For one thing, it’s nicer to be playing an out-of-work actor than to be one. It’s hard to see why Mia hasn’t been cast in panto, though. She belts out songs, dances expertly and does a virtuoso turn as at least three shepherds, one of whom has the face of a rubber dinosaur. Much of the humour comes from the costume and prop improvisations. Particularly effective is the use of fitted sheets for Mary and Joseph’s costumes – a bit of a desperate last resort, but they wear them like a Correggio painting.
The rather thin plot is really a vehicle for Tredwell’s songs. With Amir Shoenfeld as musical director, all are memorable, although the stand-out is Blake’s rendering of Santa Give Me a Kiss for Christmas, which, in the tradition of panto, is stiff with innuendo. Mia has a life affirming number that includes the inspiring line ‘I’m a truck’. Disappointingly the siblings decide not to sing Nana Sue’s favourite (Father Christmas Doesn’t Give Presents to the Germans).
Anyone who’s been to school will remember the Leavers’ Play. It tends to feature inoffensively stereotypical characters, comfortably predictable jokes and a bit of singing and dancing. The parents love it and go on quoting from it forever. This feels like an adult version of one of those. It’s fun.
Runs until: 11 December 2021