A Christmas Getaway

Lichfield Garrick


When it comes to a getaway at Christmas this splendidly daft piece of nonsense gets you away from panto and any sugary Christmassy tales and musicals with elves and fairies and stuff like that and replaces it with sex, or at least the hopes of it, cunning(?) subterfuge, and a liberal helping of laughs.

We open in an isolated country house, at night, during a raging storm and there any similarity with Agatha Christie ends, along with any similarity to . . .  well, anything sensible really.

The plot is simple, so pencil and paper ready to take notes as I will only go though it once. The butler Fambridge (Philip Jennings – to be henceforth known as A), housekeeper Ms Stokes (Kirsty Cox - B) and maid Misty (Rosie Coles - C) are alone in the country pile as the family are all away so they are planning their own Christmas celebration.

That make sense so far? Ok. Suddenly the master of the house Carl Jameson (Stuart Tavendale - D) arrives and sets in motion a whole train of infidelity, adultery, cuckolding and cuckqueaning, along with lots of drinking and an inside job robbery involving the recently let go footman Len (C) who is having a fling with Misty (also C . . . ).

Carl is the first of a whole coachload of arrivals, all appearing thinking the house is empty over Christmas . . . ah well.

Now Carl is hoping to have it off with next door neighbour Jill (B) who may or may not be an estate agent, but has her good points as well, while Carl’s wife Kath (B), who looks similar to Jill, implying Carl goes for a type, then arrives and is already having it off with Sam Drudge (D) who looks remarkably like Carl.

Sam is the intellectually challenged as a plank fiancée of Carl and Kath’s daughter Kim (C). Meanwhile Kim, who doesn’t love Sam, turns up and is having an affair with Claude Duboise (D) who looks remarkably like Carl and Sam, which makes one wonder if there has been some inbreeding going on. Claude is a Frenchman who hates capitalism . . . from the comfort of his French estate with 12 staff.

Then we have the two Carol Singers and Carol Woods (all B), the reindeer Dancer (A), Prancer (B) and Dasher (D) and two magician’s assistants (B and C).

Now the more eagle eyed might have spotted that there are some 19 characters involved in this gripping(ish) drama of familial love and passion, yet only four cast – which means some quite brilliant fast costume changes and a very clever prop of a chest where people can be hidden as one character, appear as a second character, then reappear as the original character from the trunk.

We have some wonderful word play and Jennings gives us a rapid monologue that is a fair old workout for the most photographic of memories.

Fambridge the butler is skint, something he tells us at every opportunity and with the festive rumpy pumpy festival in full swing sees this as a chance to make some Christmas bonus as a reward for discretion and keeping the couples from bumping into each other.

cast members

Rosie Coles as Misty, Kirsty Cox as Kath Jameson, Stuart Yavendale as Carl Jameson and Philip Jennings as Derek Fembridge

Ms Stokes won’t marry Mr Fambridge until he is of independent means and the mounting bonus opportunities, along with his planned robbery, would get him closer to a wedding when Ms Stokes will reveal her first name! Something, I must admit, that is not the top priority of most wedding nights, or even on the list of things to do as part of the nuptials . . . but each to his own.

All of the attempted secrecy leads to some remarkable excuses as to why people have returned to the house and attempts to keep them apart with the only constant the complete confusion which reigns.

The cast are magnificent, Rosie Coles, Tommy Cooper like, even has to play cheeky if not overly bright Len and equally dim Misty at the same time showing there are two sides to any romance  in what is a sort of DIY love affair, and when she is not in her below stairs self contained lover's tryst she appears as the more sophisticated Kim.

Kirsty Cox’s three carol singers, or two Carol Singers and one Carol Woods, in the doorway is a comic gem and she and Stuart Tavendale both manage to give their three lover characters an individuality and life of their own from loaded buffoon to French idiot only lacking a string of onions on one side and I'm no hussy to I'm yours for the taking sort of hussy, estate agent on the other.

Steady as a rock Philip Jennings keeps the whole affair on a level(ish) footing with quick thinking excuses and mad ideas.

Writer and director Feargus Woods Dunlop has created a wonderfully inventive script, deliciously daft with some glorious running gags such as assignations and estate agents with the result a laugh a minute, breakneck paced, festive cracker of a treat full of fun that will brighten and warm the coldest and gloomiest of winter days.

There is a clever cocktail mixing scene which is a tribute to Morcambe and Wise’s breakfast sketch and supporting it all is a fine set and costumes (Connie Watson) along with spot on timing from both lighting (George Seal) and sound (Anna Wood) which were an integral part of many gags.

This is a welcome festive return to the Garrick by New Old Friends, who gave us a co-production with the theatre with Crimes against Christmas in 2016, followed by evenings of Crimes on the Christmas Express the following year with a children’s play, Home for Christmas in the Studio during the day.

They wrote Crimes of the Christmas Pudding for the studio in 2018 and with Covid or at least its restrictions in the rear view mirror, are back with another quirky comedy full of double entendres and fill it in yourself moments.

The show this year is also on home ground for half the cast with Rosie from Sutton Coldfield and a graduate of Birmingham School of Acting and Wolverhampton born Stuart from Birmingham, a mature graduate of the same school, which went posh and became part of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in 2017.

You are guaranteed laughs a plenty in a Christmas getaway to 31-12-23

Roger Clarke


New Old Friends are back at Lichfield Garrick with Houdini’s Greatest Escape 25-27 April, 2024. 

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