Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – until 23 December 2016
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Dirty Protest’s production of Last Christmas at the Traverse is an emotional and beautifully acted tale, but is not as much of an alternative to traditional Christmas theatre as it may first appear.
Despite the title and setting, Mathew Bulgo’s play is not a purely Christmassy affair (and indeed originally came to Edinburgh at Fringe time). However, anyone looking for a grittier antidote to the normal festive offerings will only be partially satisfied, as this tale of reflection and redemption does still come with a generous helping of seasonal schmaltz.
The story of Tom, unhappily dealing with upcoming fatherhood and a dead-end job in London, takes on further layers when he returns home to Swansea for Christmas, re-encountering his childhood friends and dealing with personal loss.
Sion Pritchard is very good at depicting Tom’s struggles with himself and his surroundings, and also manages to portray the other characters; as well as being a fine actor, he is also a gifted storyteller – which is not necessarily the same thing.
However, this is very definitely a one-man show, and at times the performance does not quite seem to fill the space in Traverse 2, however hard Kate Wasserberg’s direction strives to maintain novelty.
Pritchard certainly does justice to the contrasts in Bulgo’s writing. The depictions of forced jollity at office parties and the limitations of male conversation are thoroughly believable. There is considerable humour here, even if the observations are not wildly original, and the laddish ‘banter’ that supplies much of the laughter overstays its welcome. Skilful construction mixes the jokes with the more serious reflections on Tom’s life, and also reveals his past and present elegantly.
The unabashed sentimentality of some of the second half is not a problem in itself; neither is the obvious desire to end with an uplifting, heartwarming message. What does not work quite so well is the way elements of that message are repeatedly and unsubtly hammered home; the feeling is inescapable that it should end five minutes before it does.
Nevertheless, this is a clever, heartfelt and well performed piece that will leave audiences with a suitably festive glow – albeit one tinged with Celtic melancholy.
Running time 1 hour (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 13 – Friday 23 December 2016
Daily at 8 pm (not Mon), Matinee Wed 21 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: http://www.traverse.co.uk/