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Review of Season's Greetings at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

There is a tradition at the start of some meetings that a member of a committee has to declare an interest in something being discussed. Therefore it is appropriate that at this time, I declare that as the relatively newly installed publicity committee member at The Playhouse Theatre, I am about to review a play that it has been my responsibility to promote. So how is that for conflict of interest?

However to be fair, the amateur world has become an increasingly delicate place for me to work with reviewing as I have got to know more and more of those involved, and they have all learnt who I am. My reviews though are not here for me to make friends, as some recent offerings have shown, so if there was something up, rest assured that I would happily state so.

Fortunately director Jem Clack has on this occasion gave me little of concern, as with his large cast of nine, he has produced a nicely polished production. I had the opportunity on Sunday to see the final dress rehearsal for the show, and like my following of The Killing Of Sister George earlier in the year, I was stunned by what actually happens between that and being suddenly presented with a buzzing and lively audience. On Sunday Season's Greetings, was solid, but clunky in places, especially around the famous puppet show. It also lacked the pace that was needed to make Ayckbourn's comedy moments shine.

Fast forward to Tuesday, official opening night (with a charity performance in between) and everything was so, so different. The drive of the performance had come up so many notches, it was almost unrecognisable in places from Sunday. I was even seeing comedy moments that I didn't see during dress, and the crowd were loving it. I may never get tired of seeing this transition now.

Alan Ayckbourn's Season's Greetings is Christmas in the Bunker household, packed with the worst collection of family and friends, pretty much none of them getting on with one another (well certainly the ones that should anyway). There is a likelihood that many families have experienced a Christmas a little like the one presented in this play (although hopefully slightly less dramatic), and this is why it works so well as a play. Many of the characters may be a little larger than life for comedy purposes however we could probably nearly recognise all of them in our life in some way.

Playing the Bunkers, Belinda and Neville are Jen Kenny and Davin Eadie. I have seen them both more than a few times (although is Davin's Playhouse debut), and perhaps almost never better. Jen manages Ayckbourn's devilishly pacy dialogue with aplomb, and creates a rather scary opponent to Davin's laid back manner. While we might be suitably terrified in the audience by Belinda's verbal diatribes at Neville, he takes it all rather calmly, and Jen and Davin make a great pair.
Jen Kenny (Belinda)
Jen also perfects the emotion switch rather well when confronted by visiting writer Clive (Simon Rye). From Clive's arrival, Simon creates the slightly salacious air of his character brilliantly, engineering his way into the affections of nearly all the ladies present in some way, even if under the influence of alcohol, like Phyllis (April Pardoe, once again on form) always is.
April Pardoe (Phyllis) and Simon Rye (Clive)
As Rachel, Corinna Leeder delightfully downplays the emotionally troubled figure well, clearly obsessed with, but perhaps never likely to get the affection that she wants from Clive. Also downplaying the deliberately dull character of Eddie is Graham Lee, against his constantly on edge stressed out heavily pregnant wife Pattie (Fiona Lee).

Suffering the challenge of being married to Phyllis, coping with inevitable certain failure of a puppet show (despite his best efforts) and a disaster in his career is Hugh Jones as Bernard. Hugh captures it all with careful balance, and after the certain pressure of the complex scene, completes that puppet scene in a suitably bad, but successful way. If that makes any sense?
Hugh Jones (Bernard) and Barry Dougall (Harvey)
Completing the cast and once again not a disappointment, is Barry Dougal as Harvey. It helps that for me, it is the best character of the play. Constantly miserable, offering a constant menace and really quite a likeable, dislikable character, Barry is brilliant in the role, with once again some superb timing on display.

Mark Mortimer has managed to weave his magic into the set again, somehow making it work as nearly three spaces, yet leaving enough room for the cast of nine to move about on. The set changes, are there are more than the norm within acts, are dealt with sprightly by Jan Phillips and Elaine Ashton.
Simon Rye (Clive) and Davin Eadie (Neville)
So yes, a very solid production with the cast gelling well together and creating very distinctive characters from Ayckbourn's lead. Its a funny play, a great antidote to Christmas as a whole, while maintaining a seasonal feel. Really excellent fun.


Performance reviewed: Tuesday 6th December, 2016 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Season's Greetings runs at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton until Saturday 10th December, 2016.

For full details of the Playhouse Theatre visit their website at http://www.theplayhousetheatre.net/ and can be found on Twitter @PlayhouseNTH


Photos: Sally Fuller

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