Review by David Munro
WHEN the curtain rises on a set with a bifurcated staircase at
the rear and two rooms delineated by vestigial walls you know
you are in for another country house comedy.
As the author is Alan Ayckbourn, you realise that the next hour
or so will be unpredictable and so it proved to be.
The occupants of this stereotypical set are three dysfunctional
families - Belinda and Neville, Pattie and Eddie, Phyllis and
Bernard - all of whom are inter-related (although I was never
quite able to fathom the relationships) and who have gathered
with their children (mercifully offstage) to spend Christmas together.
In addition, Belinda’s sister, Rachel, a frustrated spinster,
has invited a friend, Clive, to join the party whom Harvey, another
denizen of the household, who is also related to one of the others,
dislikes on sight.
Harvey is a psychotic with a passion for firearms and violence,
who, in the final scene, shoots Clive.
Before that, the others have gone through a series of disjointed
scenes, some funny, some not, where their relationships are examined
and for me found wanting.
Ayckbourn, who is also the director, keeps the action going with
cross-cutting dialogue and staging of scenes, which is all very
clever and, in a way effective, but does not disguise the hollowness
of this plotless play.
Liza Goddard plays Belinda, the hostess who hates her husband
and tries to seduce her sister’s friend, without any real
conviction. I had never really realised until last night that
attractive as she is, Miss Goddard is a very dull actress and
this was, sadly, all to apparent in her portrayal of Belinda.
The other featured player, Mathew Kelly, on the contrary brought
a lot of humour and characterisation to his part of Bernard, the
bumbling local doctor, and without much help from the script,
brought his character to life.
The funniest moment in the play is
when he is trying to get a puppet show, dreaded by the rest of
the cast, ready for the children in a race against time and hindered
by ineffectual helpers.
In a way, this epitomises the play - a lot of puppets manipulated
unsuccessfully and without a vestige of reality by Alan Ayckbourn.
The rest of the cast do what they can with their parts and bring
out what fun and humour there is in the script, but they are all
stereotypes that one has seen in countless plays of this nature
- the drunken wife, the husband who treats his wife as a possession
which she resents, the spinster sister trying to grasp her last
hope of happiness, and so on and so forth. All of which makes
a series of vignettes but not a coherent whole.
Alison Pargeter, as a heavily pregnant and dim-witted wife, is
very funny, but she is a character out of a soap opera.
Terence Booth, faced with the part of the demented villain of
the piece, tries to compensate for its inadequacies by overplaying
and achieves a burlesque performance of a demon king in pyjamas.
Alexandra Mathie wrings what pathos she can from the wronged
sister, but her emotions, like that of the rest of the cast, are
very penny plain and tuppence coloured.
Perhaps Mr Ayckbourn felt that as the play is set in the Christmas
period, he should provide his audience with a sophisticated version
of a Pollocks Theatre entertainment, because that is what this
play resembles; a cardboard travesty of period playwriting - nothing
Season’s Greetings - written and directed by Alan
Set Designer, Roger Glossop; Costume Designer, Christine Wall;
Lighting, Mick Hughes; Sound, Dan Last; Music, Dennis King.
CAST: Liza Goddard; Matthew Kelly; Terence Booth; Alison Pargeter;
Bill Champion; Jason Vaughan; Alexandra Mathie; Eliza Hunt; Mathew
Presented by Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in association
with The Stephen Joseph Theatre.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Mon, Oct 25 – Sat, Oct 30, 2004
Evenings 7.45pm / Matinees Wed. & Sat. 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088