Season’s Greetings first premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough back in 1980, and this year it’s back as part of the annual Alan Ayckbourn double-bill: two plays written and directed by Ayckbourn, who is the SJT’s director emeritus.

The play takes place at Christmas and is staged in the round, with the majority of the action taking place in the hallway – a typically Ayckbournesque choice of clever staging. With a house full of guests at Christmas time, the rooms in a house become undefined and lose their purpose, much like people under pressure.

This is a proper laugh-out-loud play with Ayckbourn’s hallmark stamps of clever dialogue and excruciatingly awkward personal exchanges. There is the usual Christmas tension, well recognisable, with some members of the household doing more of the chores than others, and excessive alcohol causing tension among the house guests, not to mention a ‘stranger’ thrown into the mix, who seems to find himself at the centre of every disaster over the Christmas period. It’s a lot of fun, made even more so by being in the round. The clever staging is done in such a way that the audience on the front row is almost literally in the action too. Presumably this is deliberate, and it really works to bring that sense of inclusion. One of the highlights of the evening was watching two teenage lads on the front row covering their eyes as a passionate, almost sex scene occurred at their feet.

In terms of how the play worked for a modern audience, well, it’s nostalgic and reminds me of 1970s sitcoms. It’s not trying to make a statement, it’s just trying to tell a good story. That being said, there are always going to be areas in which an audience might feel uncomfortable viewing attitudes and language from the 70s in a modern setting. To be able to bring a sense of nostalgia and past history alive while gently acknowledging the difference in cultural recognition of complicated areas such as race and sexual identity is a skill, and the tweaking of this play for a modern audience is beautifully done.

Andy Cryer as Clive strikes just the right note as author and newbie to the Christmas fold, in perfect contrast to Matt Addis’ Neville who is unruffled throughout, while Frances Marshall’s Belinda is played to perfection; both poignant and funny. Leigh Symonds as Bernard has impeccable comic timing, again. I tend to know if I am going to enjoy a play if I see his name in the cast. Mercy Ojelade is quietly funny as Pattie, and Michael Lyle as the boy-man Eddie oozes frustration and lack of direction. Rachel Caffrey’s Rachel ends up being one of those characters whom you want to both shake, and hug at the same time.

Meanwhile, Bill Champion’s Harvey is perfectly clichéd and Eileen Battye, as ever, is hilarious as the loose cannon Phyllis. This is quite a big cast with a lot of overlapping scenes in which action is occurring in different rooms of the set at the same time. Nevertheless, it’s wonderfully, smoothly done. This is well worth going to see – it will make you laugh and you’ll come out smiling.

By Wendy Pratt

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Season’s Greetings is on until September 28, 2019. For more information, click here.