A festive tale to warm the heart

The Holly and the Ivy

Malvern Festival Theatre


TWELVE years after Middle Ground first began touring Wynyard Browne's Christmas drama The Holly and the Ivy; the company have successfully brought it back to Malvern in a beautifully adapted piece.

Directed by Michael Lunney, the cast, crew and production team have gracefully recreated this heart-warming tale.

Middle Ground was founded in 1988 and began its first national tour covering the Highlands and Islands of Scotland performing in castles and hotels before reaching number one tour locations.

Now having mounted over 40 productions including The Importance of Being Earnest, The Return of Sherlock Homes and Far from the Madding Crowd it appears to be a theatre company on a roll. 

In 2010, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Colombo brought Hollywood stars Kelly McGillis and Dirk Benedict to UK theatres for the first time.  In 2012 a brand new production of On Golden Pond will tour the UK starring Stefanie Powers of Hart to Hart fame alongside the great RSC actor Richard Johnson – and Behind the Arras reviewer Tom Roberts!


Set around Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1947, The Holly and The Ivy meets the family of the elderly Reverend Martin Gregory as we follow the familiar formula of the gathering together of the family for Christmas.

The clan consists of a faithful and devoted daughter, played by Julia Mallam who is a marvel to watch as she sweetly and dutifully takes care of her rather more selfish relatives; namely her estranged sister (Corrinne Wicks), her brother (Chris Grahamson), and two stoic and squabbling aunts played brilliantly by Joanna Wake and Sally Sanders.

Stuart McGugan does a good job as the somewhat oblivious Reverend who slowly begins to understand the troubles that lie behind each one of his children as the extraordinary revelations unfold amongst smouldering tensions, but also with some nice touches of humour. The set is beautifully crafted with great attention to detail, effective lighting and with a subtle background of carols and church bells, the atmosphere is completely apt for this post-war festive scene.

Essentially this is a play about selflessness, loneliness, morals and expectations and certainly leaves one to ponder on one's own family expectations across the generations.   It moves at a gentle pace and is definitely enjoyable, but as a slight criticism, I am not sure if worthy of two intervals as it's hardly exhausting to watch and with no scene changes, three acts seemed a little indulgent.

It is however a warmly despondent play , worth a viewing if only to bring a little of the human touch to all the commercialism that will undoubtedly over shadow the Christmas countdown that lies ahead. To 03-12-11

Johanna Brand 

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