Fruitcake is a relatively new company and this production of Ayckbourn’s ‘Season’s Greetings’ takes place in a church hall in Stratford (doubling up as The Bear Pit Theatre), making do with temporary seating and enough of a set to deliver the play. The consequence is that the evening is about the playwright, the actors and the director’s skill and turns out to be gold indeed.
The idea of yuletide catastrophe is irresistible for Ayckbourn. The potential within a convention that forces people together who have successfully avoided each other for fifty one weeks of the year is hugely attractive. People who share DNA, but little else, are forced into close proximity. Here nine relatives and friends, along with an unspecified number of neither-seen-nor-heard children make up the festive bunch.
There are moments of rib aching hilarity. Belinda (Ann Bowen) discovered attempting nocturnal, sexual fulfilment with Clive (José Pérez Diez) under the Christmas tree and Bernard’s (Paul Tomlinson) frustrated attempt to deliver his puppet play stand out as does Phyllis (Pamella Hickson) convincing herself that all train drivers are homosexual. Rachel’s (Viv Tomlinson) woeful spinster with her supressed desires sublimated into an earnest bookishness had a touching truth. Also recognisable as a pair of blokes happier with a screwdriver and a child’s comic than dealing with the wrecked psyches of their nearest and dearest were Eddie (Dominic Skinner) and Neville (Mark Spriggs).
The director (Vanessa Comer) has treated the play as a natural piece of storytelling in which the events thrown up by bringing such people together is engrossing. Comedy is a consequence of this action rather than the purpose.
As enjoyable an evening in the theatre as I have been lucky enough to experience this year.