The rather unimaginatively titled Christmas does, at least, provide an alternative scenario to the near-relentless cheery moods so many productions specifically put on in December like to create. For various reasons, there are people out there for whom the festive period will be anything but celebratory, perhaps because it is the anniversary of the loss of someone very close or otherwise because it involves spending time with disagreeable people still with us. For some it will be both, and what bad fortune that is.
In this East End pub, business is slow. As a backdrop to the play, it works. The sparse attendance in the pub allows the audience to clearly hear the conversations, and accommodates pathos and dramatic effect. Michael McGraw (Brendan Weakliam), slightly better-spoken than most pub landlords I have come across, is clearly frustrated, though it’s not immediately clear why. Billy Lee Russell (Jack Bence) waxes lyrical about virtually anything, and cannot help but swear at least twice between each intake of breath. It wasn’t offensive, really – with a post-watershed start time of 9pm I was in an unshockable mood in any event – but it proved boring after a while.
Some of the topics of conversation were implausible for pub banter, even between men who have known one another for some years, and it is only with the arrival of Charlie Anderson (Christopher Sherwood) that the play becomes properly intriguing. Before that, the audience is treated to what the programme lists as Fat Man (Tom Telford), providing some comic relief from the rather depressing dialogue. His stay in the pub is brief but bizarre, as are later visits from Eccentric Man, and Lost Dog Man (both also Tom Telford).
Giuseppe Rossi (Alec Gray) has a manner of speaking both familiar and passionate, as would be reasonably be expected from an Italian gentleman. The blokey-bloke banter was enjoyed, from what I could perceive, by both men and women in the audience. I presume there was an appreciation of the frankness of opinions expressed – crude at times, but refreshing.
A cigarette that is repeatedly lit but doesn’t appear to actually be smoked proved more distracting than was I imagine was intended, and the bright lights shining on the audience before the show never went down as they would ordinarily be expected to, to the point where it overshadowed the stage lighting. There was no breaching of the fourth wall to justify it.
The play is, in a word, Pinteresque. But the narrative meanders too much in the second half, with talk of loyalties to certain football clubs one minute and a deadly serious conversation about a character’s current station in life the next. Giuseppe’s story is told too many times, and when Charlie makes his excuses and calls it a night, the remainder of the show drags, like a mainline train queued up behind others waiting to pull into its terminus station. “It’s been a long night”, muses Giuseppe, a line which for me was true of the show as well as for its proceedings. A disappointing end to an otherwise gritty and hard-hitting production.
Photo credit: Andreas Lambis
One week ‘til Christmas. A bleak bar in the heart of London’s East End. Landlord Michael Macgraw is setting up for the Saturday punters - all two of them; young Billy Russell, a foul-mouthed football fan and Seppo the barber with an odd fondness for Drambuie and dreaming of Vienna. Christmas, a time for family, goodwill and peace to all men, but not for these three. They’ve barricaded themselves in for the night, and there’s only one thing on the agenda… drinking. But what will the arrival of a mysterious lone stranger mean for their sanctuary?
This December, Theatre N16 brings you the early and rarely performed work of critically acclaimed writer, Simon Stephens. In a play that centres on loneliness, inertia and celebrates the humility and humour of Britain’s white working class, you’ll find this Yuletide offering the perfect post-Brexit tonic.
Performance Dates December 11th – December 22nd 2016
Sunday – Thursday, 9pm
matinee Sunday 18th at 4pm
Venue Theatre N16, The Bedford Pub, 77 Bedford Hill, London SW12 9HD
Ticket Price £15 (£10 concessions)
Box Office Ticketsource (www.ticketsource.co.uk/theatren16)
Travel Balham station (2 min walk)
Streatham Hill station (20 min walk)
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.