New Diorama Theatre, London – until 23 December 2017
Christmas is an event of many contradictions. A festival that has its roots in Christian as well as pagan times, the story of a poor family 2,000 years ago is celebrated with a plethora of consumer goods and people running themselves into debt for just one day. Directed by Alice Hamilton, Thirty Christmases brings these external peculiarities to the fore, plus the bittersweet nature of spending time with family at the close of the year.
Using their real first names, Jonny Donahoe and Rachel Parris play siblings who have been estranged for 10 years because of an incident that’s disclosed later. The product of an unconventional upbringing, Jonny and Rachel have a different experience of Christmas from most people. With their mother absent, they’re raised by their father – his Marxist principles influencing the way they ‘celebrate’ Christmas, even in adulthood. While sharing is actively encouraged, the way he’s orchestrated this could be interpreted as Machiavellian and many Crimbo traditions are given their own reinterpretation.
A lot of the humour in the play comes from Rachel and Jonny finding out that much of their upbringing and instilled values go against the grain of society. But while the siblings’ quirks such as their ongoing fish puns and alternative eggnogs are fun, they naturally dovetail into the show’s pathos and more serious insights. As part of this, suspect lyrics from yesteryear’s Christmas records are hightlighted, as are well-known charity records and what they are ‘really’ saying.
Providing perspective on the siblings’ ‘fallout’ is Paddy Gervers, a friend and perennial presence in their lives. His thread is entwined with young people who are in care and have no other support network. The show’s conclusion may not be original, but as it aptly points out, having a ‘home’ at Christmas is more than a roof over one’s head. It’s a place where you’ll always belong and are welcome, irrespective of time and distance. If you’ve ever heard Tim Minchin’s White Wine In The Sun, much of his thoughts and sentiments in that song are expressed in this show.