Season’s Greetingsby Alan Ayckbourn,
National Theatre, 1st December-4th January
Tis the season to be jolly, or perhaps not with Alan Ayckbourn’s 1980 classic comedy of a typical English Christmas. The play offers family misery, marriage on the rocks, too much booze and joyless merry-making, and a few specials on the cast list: Mark Gatiss, Catherine Tate, Jenna Russell and David Troughton. Director Marianne Elliott should add to her National reputation (War Horse, Saint Joan, Women Beware Women) if she holds the ring and discourages excessive “comedy” playing.
The best of Ayckbourn is the stuff of Greek tragedy glimpsed from the nooks and crannies of purpose-built family units. The playwright used to be knocked as suburban west end fare, but he’s more likely, these days, to prompt comparisons with Ibsen (secrets rotting away in domestic, middle-class mantraps) or even Chekhov; the latter, perhaps, in the scene where a lonely spinster, preparing to transport a ludicrous writer from the private fray, sees a silent night yawn menacingly before her.
Santa runs a gauntlet, a self-styled fascist shoots a looter, the doctor presses on with his puppet show and copulation thrives illicitly under the tree. The NT promises not just a Christmas cracker, but a major revival.