Christmas Dinner – Royal Lyceum theatre

Written by Robert Alan Evans

Directed by Gill Robertson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This time of year is complex. For as much as we adore Christmas and suffered with the break from traditional Festive gatherings and parties (well, some of us did…) – one cannot blame those who perhaps wish that Christmas was cancelled. From the busy schedules to the awkward family meet-ups, the Yuletide season isn’t everyone’s cup of Eggnog. And for Stage Manager Tracey, all the guff and cheeriness which comes along with it is that last thing she needs. So that’s it, Christmas is off – no show, no presents, and definitely no sprouts.

But you see, the Theatre has other ideas. As do the spirits, and we’re not talking Gin and Whiskey.

Every space has its resident spirits, or ghosts if you will, and the Lyceum is no different. From a songbird from Midsummer to a poor shy boy trapped in a box of tinsel, this seasons’ spirits range from the peculiar to the adorable, and there are no foul spooks this Christmas. Instead, the spiritual residents of the stage recognise her distress and are determined to put on a show, but what you may ask? Panto is too obvious, fairy tales too boujee, but what about Christmas Dinner? It has style, substance, gravy and a message. Strike the lights, dig out the costumes, and be damned that fussy stage manager.

A pantheon of the lyceum’s past, Catherine Wheel’s co-production strikes right at the heel of nostalgia, rolling out previous costume pieces from old and contemporary productions. The head of a Wonderland resident here, the glittering ballet tutu’s from yesteryear there – Christmas Dinner is as much a love letter to the industry as it is to performance and venue. And it is without question one of the Lyceums more risky, thoughtful and creative pieces – challenging usual expectations of shows from this time of year. 

Weaving their expectant magic, both the Royal Lyceum and Catherine Wheels turn the building into a living, breathing behemoth, who too has suffered at the hands of the Pandemic. For what is a Theatre without guests? A Theatre without Stories? From the sinister rumbles over the audio to the twinkling fairy lights of glee as the stage once more feels the passion it once knew, Christmas Dinner not only revives the Lyceum’s Christmas show but revive the stage itself.

Trapped in his box, Ronan McMahon’s Shy Boy personifies the innocence and naivety of this time of year, harmless, eager, but unaware of the lurking shadows. Sita Pieraccini speaks through a strictly physical means, for the most part, supported by backing vocals and a plethora of feathers – and yet, there is a sincerity to the role which shines through the midst of all the chatter and larger than life characters.

Ever the delight, Richard Conlon’s Fruity matches well at the dinner table with Florence Odumosu, the pair of dab hands at the Theatre game as an old-school Luvvie performer and a rather generous critic flinging out the five-stars at every possible turn. They start the production with a smile and maintain charmingly addictive humour throughout – even as the narrative takes on a beaker dimension.

And in essence, one final player makes the stage their own – quite literally. As the Theatre itself rumbles and roars at the lack of narratives, and after nearly two years without a festive treat – one cannot blame her. It takes Christmas Dinner into a metatextual dynamic, subverting the usual traditions to instil an even more ancient one of storytelling.

One needs to recollect the thoughts that, for all the jolly cheer and sprouts we may indulge in at Christmas – for many, it is the considerably painful and loneliest time of the year. One not of glee and mirth but hurt. Evan’s writing captures this, and a word of warning – it may prove to be a sharp strike for some. The second act, where winter’s presence whisks itself onto the stage, brings with it a deliciously sinister edge to the otherwise happy-go-lucky evening.

But there’s an unwritten philosophy with children’s stories – the journey can be trialling, even scary, so long as the ending ties together a semblance of comfort. Christmas Dinner may not end in a traditional Christmas fashion, but it is precisely the shake-up many require at this frost-tinted time of year. Gill Robertson’s direction pulls no punches, and as Lesley’s story unveils, Elicia Daly’s performance excels itself, tightly clasping the hands of the audience – out of both tenderness and recognition. From every Pantomime which spoke to the many, Christmas Dinner speaks to the forgotten.

But as masters of Childrens Theatre, Catherine Wheels captures the essence of an inner turmoil that many grown-ups have yet to truly face or accept, one of loss or isolation. In crafting a sublimely touching, often quite gripping piece for kids, Christmas Dinner seeks to speak beyond the costume and design – and to a part of audiences that may have hidden things away, especially in this past trying months. It is unlike anything most will have seen, and yet, has such a timeless and familiar ring.

Christmas Dinner runs at The Royal Lyceum Theatre until January 2nd. Tickets for which can be booked here.

Photo Credit – Mihaela Bodlovic

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