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Seasonal, Old Red Lion Theatre

Presented by BackHere! Theatre Company
★★★

Pros: A really diverse mix of Christmas stories with a lot of interest and cleverly written twists. Excellent stage direction and use of the space and minimal set throughout, with some notably good performances.

Cons: Not all of the writing is witty or tight enough to make these dramas about the nuances of everyday situations interesting and punchy; at times there are some slow moments therefore. Some of the acting is a little forced and obvious at times.

Our Verdict: An enjoyable show and a big step up from BackHere!’s last production. They have plenty of talent, and it would be great to see them focus on producing the better quality writing to create the consistently strong shows they are obviously capable of.

Credit: Sam Goodchild for BackHere! Theatre

Seasonal is a collection of seven short, previously unperformed plays centred around the theme of Christmas. The pieces are written, acted and directed by the company interchangeably, demonstrating a real versatility amongst this troupe. There is a lot of variety here: common everyday scenarios are presented with a twist and a few surprises too! The plays really stand up in their own right and hence each deserves its own mini-review.

Happy. Now. This is a great opener for the show. We meet a very smiley, seemingly shy and innocent looking chap (Joshua O’Connor) who talks us through his Christmas Eve. The repetitive, humorous monologue builds an uneasiness as it progresses and the climactic event is wonderfully unexpected. This is a very well written piece by Michael Gilbert and O’Connor presents the character with genuine credibility.

Bombshells. This is a comic play by Ian McGowan about a homosexual student’s first ‘out’ Christmas with his parents. The star of this play is the script: the dialogue here has some good comedy moments and the several twists are clever and funny. It is well acted by Julia Faulkner, Andrew Louden, David Tudor and Vincent Enderby and I really enjoyed the mother’s story line – brilliantly funny!

Got It In One. This play finds two people waking up together after meeting the night before. They then go on to explore the possibility that there is such a thing as ‘The One’. Madeline Rice both writes and acts and conceptually there are some interesting ideas explored. It is a little slow in parts and it would have more impact if it was a little tighter on timing and dialogue. Performances by both Rice and Joshua Jenkins are enjoyable though.

Merry Christmas Gordon. David William Bryan writes about a child with learning difficulties who is discussing spending his first Christmas with his mother’s new boyfriend. The story has potential, the twist is strong and unforeseen, and the back story about the pond is good. The characters, however, are not quite convincing, particularly the mother – creating the banality that backdrops the plot does not necessarily require clichéd ideas and the performances are a little contrived as a result.

Crimble. In my opinion this was the weakest of the seven plays. There is a lack of storyline – we spend a Christmas afternoon with a couple doing not much at all and the climax was not particularly climactic. In addition, the performances in this one came across as being a bit lacklustre and forced compared to some of the others. As a result, the production fails to ever really find its feet, and it lacks pace throughout.

Best Worst Christmas Ever. This was the highlight of the collection for me. It is a brilliant concept and farcically funny, and the story unfolds with finesse; it’s really very well-written by Matthew Radway. A couple reach the day they enter the Guinness Book of Records for celebrating Christmas 512 in a row… or so they think! Damien Hughes, Harriet Layhe and Christopher Rithin give wonderfully camp performances with impeccable comic timing. Great stuff!

Bag The Room. This is a very elaborate plot about a chap who manages to sleep with two unsuspecting sisters on Christmas Eve with an ulterior motive. Craig Henry both writes and plays the main protagonist here. The plot has potential: it is complex and interesting and has some moments of genuine comedy and a great reveal. The issue is that it is so elaborate that it loses credibility – it’s a story with lots of holes in it. That said it is an entertaining piece and Henry’s acting is very good. Jade Parker and Laura Morgan portray the personalities of the sisters down to a tee and they bring a cheesiness to the role which really enhances the comic value.

As a footnote, the direction across the board is really impressive and mention must go to Craig Henry, Ian McGowan, Sophie Ivatts, Chloe Ward, Hannah Bannister, and Joshua O’Connor for their talented input. Overall, this is an interesting bunch of shows which created an enjoyable evening. Of course they vary in quality, but if you fancy seeing some new and often very promising writing then we’d recommend it!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Seasonal runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 21st December 2012.
Box Office: 0844 412 4307 or book online at http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/

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