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Andrew Liddle
Features Writer
5:09 PM 2nd August 2019

Summer Season’s Greetings

from left, Eileen Battye and Andy Cryer
from left, Eileen Battye and Andy Cryer
A play about Christmas, Season’s Greetings, for a seaside town’s summer show, running through August and September! Only, perhaps, Alan Ayckbourn among contemporary playwrights (and directors) could guarantee box office success.

At the SJT, Scarborough, which has witnessed so many premieres of the (new) Master’s plays, it is a racing certainty that holiday-makers and locals will be rolling in the aisles, delighted by a comedy that is a bitter-sweet exploration, interrogation and inquisition of the extended family’s Christmas.

from left, back: Mercy Ojelade, Frances Marshall, Matt Addis, Michael Lyle; front: Bill Champion
from left, back: Mercy Ojelade, Frances Marshall, Matt Addis, Michael Lyle; front: Bill Champion
It’s an unusual play in many ways, not least that much of it takes place in the hall of a suburban house – the home of the aptly-named Bunkers, Neville (Matt Addis) and Frances (Frances Marshall), battening down the hatches, their friends and family all safely ensconced while outside the snow thickens.

It’s pretty much like most Christmases, with this difference that Belinda’s sister, Rachel (Rachel Caffrey) has invited an outsider, her inadvertent boyfriend, Clive (Andy Cryer). Hapless in many respects, he evidently has a talent as a writer and an appeal to the ladies. Rachel is madly jealous of him talking to her sister who is obviously more than a little attracted to him. Even poor squiffy Phyllis (Eileen Battye), Neville’ sister, wants him to teach her all about English literature. Only, Pattie (Mercy Ojelade), the wife of Neville’s friend, Eddie (Michael Lyle), shows no interest among the womenfolk but then she’s heavily pregnant.

He has less appeal to the men. Uncle Harvey (Bill Champion) clearly takes against him from the start but then the old curmudgeon doesn’t like anybody, least of all Bernard, Phyllis’s husband. Leigh Symonds brings his priceless gift for comic timing, well known here, to the dotty doctor determined to do his excruciatingly boring annual puppet show.

Put this bunch under one roof for four days, the booze sloshing around, and sparks are bound to fly. There will be much hilarity for the audience as misunderstandings flourish, tempers flare and eccentricities are revealed often farcically - but, as always with this playwright, the laugh is ever the prelude to a melancholy smile. The denouement takes us by surprise, well and truly catches us out, and if the humour persists, it is into the black.

A wonderfully entertaining play, directed by the man who most should know how, it has outstanding production skills, reflecting most favourably on everyone concerned, the cast, designer Kevin Jenkins and, not least, lighting designer, Jason Taylor, who has added lustre to some thirty productions at the SJT.

2019 is Sir Alan’s eightieth year to heaven and sixtieth anniversary as a playwright, thirty-seven of which were spent here as artistic director. Truly the world of theatre will not look on his like again when he eventually retires. Happily there is no sign of that and the world awaits eagerly the eighty-third play,Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, opening here on 4th September. In the playwright’s words, ‘it’s a story about a man who’s trying to deal with and understand women … a sort of companion piece to my 2017 play, A Brief History Of Women.’

Season’s Greetings, which originally came out in 1980, is a good way to get us in the mood for the next one, written forty years later.

Seasons Greetings runs until 28th September at the SJT.