Writer: Robert Wallis and Liam Fleming
Director: Jonathan Woodhouse
If there’s one thing you can say aboutThis is not a Christmas Playit’s that the title is accurate. David, one of two friends who share a house is waiting hopefully for an ex-girlfriend so that they can have a romantic meal and maybe end up back together. As part of his plans, he needs to get rid of Tim, his feckless housemate, for the evening. This scenario could just as easily, and probably a lot more plausibly, be played out on Valentine’s day, rather than an unspecified day around Christmas.
Into their house come a succession of visitors beginning with a census worker and a pregnant single mother called Mary. Now the biblical references become clearer, but with the former it seems like the choice of occupation has nothing to do with the story and everything to do with getting a Christmas reference in, even if censuses take place at a different time of year altogether.
As it is neither the census worker, nor Mary, nor the other visitors who turn up, are who they appear to be. They are opportunistic thieves. As plot twists go, it isn’t the first time it’s been done, and it comes fairly early and obviously into the mix, telegraphed soon after Mary’s arrival. This isn’t necessarily a criticism of the play, but what is disappointing is that it isn’t Christmas presents that are stolen, and nor is it the abundance of such items at this time of year that leads to them choosing now as the time to become criminals. Writers Robert Wallace and Liam Fleming, don’t use the scenario to develop the anti-Christmas spirit of the play, and instead of the black comedy that could have emerged, they head for the more lightweight territory of farce and panto humour, with puns masquerading as jokes, and a variety of visual gags and props thrown in for laughs rather than because they make any sense in the context of the story.
It’s entertaining enough, with several absurd moments and clever ideas, such as flatmate Tim’s interesting use of the weekly shopping to develop a board game, and it moves through its one hour slot with a pace that never really lets up, and doesn’t feel that it outstays it’s welcome, to the extent that, partly due to the inconclusive last lines, no one in the audience seemed sure that it had even finished when the end came.
The four actors work well together, Matthew Leigh and Jordan Kouame, sparring off each other as flatmates in the Peep Show or Men Behaving Badly traditions of the genre, and Alice Coles and James Unsworth convincing as a couple, as well as a couple of thieves. Unsworth also shows a good eye for the absurd that enhances his depiction of various personas and brings out the more surreal elements of the script to good effect.
But overall it feels like an opportunity missed, like the play should either be set and staged at a different time of year, or that the writers should twist the biblical references into something that tells a darker story that, while not about Christmas, could only happen sometime in December. As it is, the end result is something that would get less attention if it was simply claiming to be a play, rather than to not be a Christmas play.
Runs until4 January, 2015 | PhotoSofi Berenger