ALAN Ayckbourn’s 1980 play Season’s Greetings is perhaps the polar opposite of all those sickly, soft-focus images of the perfect family festivities.
Set in the home of Neville and Belinda Bunker, the five scenes start on Christmas Eve and end in the early hours of 27th December, and show how the family and friends slot into tried and tested roles, turning their backs on any thought of enjoyment, peace, harmony and rest.
For the Swan production, directed with his usual careful attention to detail by Robert Graydon, Ayckbourn’s script has been precisely adapted to bring the story up to Christmas 2021 – what nicer present than a lateral flow test in your stocking?
The director has also had to take over at short notice the role of Clive the writer, as the original performer came too close to COVID-19 late on in the rehearsal period. But Graydon is an experienced actor and will soon be fluent.
Season’s Greetings is one of Ayckbourn’s wry, sly and deeply dysfunctional plays, never more so than at its end, which seems to leave the audience suspended.
The cast of characters, apart from Neville (perfectly observed by Roger Mumford) and Belinda, (the constantly fraught Tanya Ogden), includes Nev’s friend the hapless Eddie (David Hallett), his pregnant wife Pattie (played with stoic and noisy reality by Sarah Nias), his neurotic sister Rachel (Rachel Butcher), Bernice the failed doctor and puppeteer (usually a male role but here played by the excellent Sarah Ambrose) and her partner the daffily drunken Phyllis (Mary Buckle) and the dangerously authoritarian uncle Harvey (Tyrone Trower).
The cast achieves a remarkably realistic resignation, so watching is more fly-on-the-wall than AMATEUR DRAMA. Of course the denouement is heightened reality (hopefully!) but so much of this play is painfully recognisable, and the loud laughter is tempered with the gasps of horror at the situations we create annually for and endure with our “loved ones,” year after predictable year.
Another brilliant show at the Swan, and the start of an appetising season until July next year.