Review: Season’s Greetings at the National Theatre

I’ve never been a big fan of Alan Ayckbourn’s plays which are all about middle class, middle aged people contemplating their lot in the comfort of their homes and sofas and beds. It being the festive spirit, I took a chance to see Season’s Greetings at the National.

The play will resonate with many of us as we either look forward to or dread a Christmas weekend with family and relatives. It had all the stock family Christmas characters we all know and love or hate – an older family member whose views are not acceptable in today’s world; a long suffering husband whose wife is an alcoholic; the single woman in her late 30’s who finds it hard to find or keep a relationship; couples in the midst of marital despair.

Inducing great expectation at the onset with its comic cast, this play, disappointingly, delivers little hilarity. It starts off very slowly but manages to build up to a comic cresendo just before the interval when Belinda (played by Catherine Tate) and her sister’s boyfriend Clive are ‘caught in the act’ under the Christmas tree.

As we headed out to our much needed interval drinks, I heard several murmurings of disappointment from other members of the audience. One boldly asked her friend, ‘What is funny about this play?’ But given the climax just before the interval, I went back to watching the second half with renewed expectation that the pace and tempo would be faster in the second half. Alas, I was let down.

The second half dragged on. With a running time of almost 3 hours, I felt as if I had spent a trying weekend with my family and relatives over a festive weekend!

There was a Shakespearean ‘play within a play’ element in Season’s Greetings with a puppet show on the Three Little Pigs although I struggled to see the thematic link to the main play. But the chaotic puppetry scene did provide a genuine laugh or two.

The acting was faultless. I particularly enjoyed watching Oliver Chris and I think he would be very good in a Shakespeare comedy. Catherine Tate’s voice didn’t always project well, especially if you were sitting at the back, but her comic timings did help to move this play along to some extent.

Finally, this play was billed as being set in the early 80s. I can’t remember what we were wearing back then but the characters were dolled out in 70s style clothes. Small point, I know.

By all means go and see it, but do have a Christmas tipple or two before you sit down. All in the festive spirit, of course, to enjoy the play more.

My overall rating: 3 stars out of 5

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About manipillai

Oh, just a few of my thoughts on theatre.
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2 Responses to Review: Season’s Greetings at the National Theatre

  1. dkb says:

    I fear Ayckbourn is becoming sadly more hackneyed by the year but I thought a stellar cast had a right go at making this a flier.

    Perhaps I found more here to laugh at than you and I wasn’t pining for the end, even in the second act — so, that’s something.

    I was sitting in the second row, far too close as a general rule; however, in this case I think it helped, both to hear all the dialogue as well as capture facial expressions which may have been lost further back. There were quite a few scenes featuring simultaneous action on different parts of the stage. Proximity was a plus.

    The last piece I saw at the Lyttelton was After the Dance. I admit I found that piece enthralling, particularly the breathtaking curtain-up revealing the sheer volume of space. Where Dance filled every inch of the cavernous stage, Season’s Greetings seemed to recede.

    A spirited performance helped make the evening bright, but I was ultimately left feeling small, and that’s a shame.

  2. manipillai says:

    @dkb: Your assessment abt the stage and possibly the theatre being too big for this play is right. A smaller venue might have done this play more justice. And I also enjoyed the National’s revival of After the Dance. Hopefully we’ll get to see more Rattigan next year.

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