Saturday, December 18, 2010

So as snow crashes all our schedules and intentions until that towering sledgeload of excess and stress we call Christmas skids into the bleakness of New Year Resolutions - here's my pick of the seasonal shows:

Herding Cats at the Ustinov features the traditional office Christmas party debacle as a kind of climax but it's a dark psychological story of loneliness and interdependency despite the jolly Slade jingles. Justine (she went to the fancy-dress party as The Pantychrist, if you're wondering about the costume) is franticly work-obsessed, while her flatmate Michael is agoraphobic and spends his hours working a phone sexline as the fantasy daughter of sadist. Michael can't resist the depravity of Saddo, the most difficult person in his work life, while Justine convinces herself she's in love with the most difficult person in her work life - her boss, who inevitably rejects her. Love and Hate look the same word in the mirror, on the teeshirt Michael gives Justine, and this seems a theme at the heart of this immensely powerful play: troubling, sad, but never drab. Olivia Hallinan and Philip McGinley were totally engaging as the young people, and the simplistic set enhanced their curious isolation. But what I liked best was Lucinda Coxon's script, which boldly created Justine's most significant relationship entirely offstage through reported dialogue as she confides in her sympathetic flatmate. In fact it would have been interesting to see what would happen if the playwright had been similarly brave with Saddo, who didn't really need to be spotlit for his menacing phone calls - a dark stage with Michael curled up whispering those sleezy endearments to 'Daddy' would have been even more effective. But I'd still give it four stars - oh, it's christmas, I'll give it four and a half.

And now one for the kiddies: Peter Pan at the Merlin in Frome, an all-singing all-dancing traditional pantomime with live music and cinematic special effects. We all know the story: Peter doesn't want to be grown-up, and Wendy tries to change his mind by introducing him to grown-up things like marital bickering and demands for improved housing. Of course it's all a dark psychological allegory with irrepressible surges of erotic yearning and loss of innocence really, but that didn't bother the little girls who adored the mermaid and fairy dances and the little boys who thrilled at wicked Captain Hook. My own favourites were Tinkerbell the feisty fairy who turned exquisite cartwheels in her flight harness, and tiny Michael asking Hook if his mother really wanted him to be a pirate... And everyone loved the crocodile.

And now, as the steep streets of Frome rapidly becoming a car-free zone and children groom them for toboggan slopes, here's wishing everyone a peaceful snowy solstice, with plentiful pagan celebrations to come.

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