Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings takes us both forward and back in time: forward by a week to the heart of the Christmas festivities but back by thirty-plus years as nine friends and family celebrate Yuletide together amidst infidelity, fueding and no small amount of TV. Talking of TV, fans of geek telly will be in their element here with Mark Gatiss, Catherine Tate and David Troughton (all with strong connections to Dr Who) plus The IT Crowd’s Katherine Parkinson featuring amongst the cast.
The play is very much of its time. It was first shown in 1980 and this production has not updated the story or the setting. Marc Wootton as Eddie and Neil Stuke, as the cuckolded husband of Catherine Tate’s Belinda, get to sport some comedy cardigans while the humour fairly reflects the sitcoms of that period; we half-expected Tom and Barb to come in from the garden or George and Mildred (the original cougar) to pop round while the closing scene of the first half was pure Frank Spencer.*
The plot, such as it is, revolves around Belinda’s attempts to manage the Christmas celebrations while seducing her sister’s date and the mild-mannered Bernard (Gatiss) attempting to put on a puppet show on Boxing Day. The real action happens beneath all this as mid-life crises and middle-class woes are laid bare beneath the Christmas tree. Parkinson’s pregnant Pattie gets few lines but shines in every scene she’s in, especially when manhandling her inebriated and inert husband. In contrast, Tate’s role is boxed in by ‘70s sensibilities and she rarely gets to show off her superb comic timing.
This play works as a comedy and a drama but also as an accidental period piece (it certainly was not written as such) which has aged noticeably but still entertains. For those born too late to appreciate the kind of wit on display in Season's Greetings, see below for an excerpt from George and Mildred.
*Useless fact: the theme tune to Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em is the show’s title played out in Morse Code on a piccolo.