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Christmas Crackers Review, David Whetstone

Christmas Crackers, Live Theatre, 

A lovely time of the year, Christmas. All tinsel, holly and seasonal bonhomie under the beautifully decorated tree – and never a bad word uttered.

Well… here’s a dose of festive reality from four writers who, as Live Theatre’s Artistic Director Joe Douglas asserts, “strive for truth”.

The truth, as we all know in our heart of hearts, is rarely as perfectly palatable as a department store’s seasonal TV commercial. People are people (and sometimes crackers). Stuff happens.

Out of that ‘stuff’ comes this quartet of short plays – two each directed by Douglas and Live Theatre’s Graeme Thompson – by up-and-coming writers who have been honing their skills as part of a Live Theatre writing development scheme.

Each is announced to the audience by a Christmas elf (a very large one) bearing a placard.

First up, Clementines (Easy Peeler) by Tamsin Daisy Rees in which Sam (Dale Jewitt) and sisters Tess and Charlie (Katie Powell and Sarah Balfour) are getting ready to go to the school Christmas show.

Aah! But these are sweary young siblings with things to hide from the audience and each other.

Funny how seldom normal teenagers appear in those aforementioned TV commercials. But they exist and here they are in all their less than glittering glory.

Next up – or down – is Grounded by Henry Lawrence in which young Eddie (Daniel Watson) returns home late at night after a family bust-up with an injured pigeon in a fish and chip carton.

They are two wounded things but salvation is at hand. After a heart-to-heart with dad Martin (Micky Cochrane), bonds – if not wings – are mended and the future’s rosy glow is restored.

Eddie’s future would seem not to be limited to shelf-stacking and the pigeon (and I confess I was sceptical about this) has a potential new vocation as a family pet.

Home for Christmas by Olivia Hannah introduces us first to Amy and Lex (Powell and Balfour) as they prepare for a Christmas house party. Then in comes Jack (Watson) with, er, Santa (Jewitt).

He’s a bit scuffed around the edges and the beard’s a bit skew-whiff. His speech is also a bit odd – you might say slurred. Still, though not Christmas card perfect, he swears (oh, yes he does) that he’s Santa and Jack’s prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Things proceed… awkwardly. In the funniest of the four plays, startling truths are brought home to roost over the drinking game bowl of punch.

Last but not least is Marbles by Jamie Morren in which all five actors are on stage playing a family beset by one of those real-life sickeners that can blight best-laid plans.

Grandad Pat (Cochrane) is nearing the end of his life and reliving the most dramatic parts of it, meaning we and the family – or ‘family’ since they are not necessarily flesh-and-blood – flash back with him.

The title suggests Pat might be losing his marbles but they also loom large in his memories. They were things to play with, to collect and to use as protection against intruders.

It’s a look back at Christmases past – not much better than Christmases present on this evidence and with tangible dangers. When a man (Dale Jewitt) comes in with machine gun demanding “the code” you do wonder quite what Pat has to get misty-eyed about.

It’s a thought-provoking conclusion to an alternative festive night out and just the sort of thing that makes Live Theatre a place full of delightful surprises – at this and other times of the year.

David Whetstone

Christmas Crackers continues at Live Theatre until Saturday 22 December.

To support independent theatre criticism, and to champion the arts and culture in the region, Live Theatre invites independent critics to review our work. The content of this review is independent from the views of Live Theatre and Live Theatre employees.

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