Southwark’s Union Theatre has celebrated Yuletide with an Alan Ayckbourn comedy before, but there is something particularly appropriate about it taking on Season’s Greetings, set as it is over one Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. As husband and wife Neville and Belinda have four relatives, two friends and a famous writer to stay, emotions run high as pre-existing tensions come to the fore and new rivalries break out.
There is a feeling of familiarity here since we have all experienced family feuds at one Christmas or another, and yet also one of comfort as we think that no matter how bad our own experience proved, it was better than spending Christmas with this lot! While, however, there is a universality to the scenario in that we all know someone like each of the protagonists, there is something about the sprit of the play that means it could only be set around 1980. When Ayckbourn wrote it 33 years ago, he was merely setting it in the present day, but director Michael Strassen has rightly recognised the era’s peculiarities and retained the setting of 1979.
This enables many of the social commentaries to be played out to good effect. Neville is a ‘hard headed’ businessman, but still seems relatively tame in comparison with the archetypal yuppie figure who would emerge over the following decade, while all of the characters’ values differ markedly from those that prevail today. Neville, while believing he is forward thinking, treats Belinda as a servant and takes both her love and loyalty for granted. Neville’s friend Eddie treats his wife and mother of three Pattie like dirt, but for her independence is an alien concept, and divorce never an option.
All of this is played out to good effect in the Union Theatre, whose intimate space proves perfect for drawing out the sense of claustrophobia associated with spending three days in the same house with such difficult people. From among the strong cast, particular accolades go to Abigail Rosser who convincingly hints at both Belinda’s aspirations and needs as a woman, and Matthew Carter as Neville’s hapless brother-in-law Bernard whose comedy routine with a puppet theatre brings the house down.
Until 4 January 2014 at the Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, SE1 0EX. Tickets £15-£18, book on 020 7261 9876 or visit the Union Theatre website. Londonist received a complimentary ticket from the Union Theatre.