Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Pulling a real Christmas cracker

Season’s Greetings

Moorpool Players,

Moor Pool Hall, Harborne


CHRISTMAS is a time when families come together . . . in this case rather like the meeting of tectonic plates.

And this is a family where being merely dysfunctional would be un understatement while the spirit of good will, particularly the spirit bit, ends up as more  fester then festive when it comes to the relationships,

Alan Ayckbourn’s 1980 black comedy is a sort of farce with sharp edges and its enduring popularity, apart from the fact it is funny of course, probably stems from the fact everyone has a relative, a mad aunt, barmy uncle – it might even be you – who make any Christmas gathering, should we say  . . . interesting.

This particular gathering of the clans is an annual event at the home of Belinda and Neville whose marriage is as fresh as two week old Mother’s Pride.

Belinda, played with the resigned frustration of one trapped in a marriage in mourning by Caroline Alderton, spends her time dressing the Christmas tree and fussing about, always on the move, never seeming to sit down and relax and forever asking Nev to do things he is supposed to have done.

Husband Neville, played with an air of complete detachment by Des Lea, gives the impression his interest in Belinda would increase dramatically if her vital statistics were in ohms, volts and amps and she had a few cogs and worm gears to play with. He runs a couple of shops and his interest starts and, unfortunately for Belinda, ends with things mechanical or electronic.

Then we have Phyllis, Nev’s sister, who tradition has it, always cooks a lamb dinner for the whole family on Christmas Eve, the success of which depends upon how efficiently she has been kept from the cooking sherry, red wine, gin . . .

She is a neurotic lush with licentious tendencies – at least towards Clive – but as we don’t yet know if he is going to arrive more of him later.

Phyllis, played with the up-own emotions of your average common or garden hormonal (very) housewife-cum-nutter by Mary Ruane, is married to Bernard, a man who gives boredom a bad name. Bernard, played with all the enthusiasm of a disinterested pebble by Andrew Miles, would make mogadon look like an amphetamine. To add to his charms he is also one of the world’s worst doctors, something he proves with distinction in the final scene.

His party piece, year after year, is a puppet show for the children on Boxing Day, but this is not just any old puppet show, this is quite possibly the worse puppet show on earth, showing a consistency of incompetence if nothing else.


There are even outsiders condemned to join Ayckbourn’s Christmas party in the shape of Pattie, played with the cares of the world, or at least her husband Eddie, on her shoulders by Emma Suffield. She is heavy with child, to add that little traditional  festive touch, but she does not want the baby, not that she thinks having hree children already is enough - “three. Four, what’s the difference?”  - but because she does not think Eddie wants it.

What Eddie wants though is difficult to fathom. Eddie, played by Richard Quarmby, is Nev’s friend and once worked for him but then left to set up on his own which, as he appears to be both bone-idle and lacking in any sort of initiative, was probably not the best choice he ever made; and if you were wondering, no it didn’t work out.

So he spends his time sucking up to Nev in the hope of getting another job with hi,.

Another outsider is Clive – the writer, played by Dan Birch, almost with normality, which, of course, makes him the oddball among this lot.. He is the not boyfriend, something we must make clear, of Belinda’s sister Rachel played by Sam Bloxham.

He has one novel to his name, about a failed marriage, his own and the couple met through a book club where she is the secretary. Clive did not arrive at the time expected which did not auger well for the emotionally confused Rachel who has a sort of love hate relationship with, well, relationships. She tells Clive at one point that sex is like smoking and having managed without it for 25 years or so its seems a bit stupid to take it up now. And we all know celibacy is perhaps not the most surefire way to have blokes queuing at a no longer that young lady's door.

And running through it all like a suburban Rambo is Harvey, uncle of Neville and Phyllis, played with beautiful bigotry and brilliant timing by Mark Eary.

Harvey is so far out on the right he is in the next time zone. While Bernard is an out and out pacifist, presumably relying on boring his enemies into submission, Harvey leans more towards that end of the judicial system where hang ‘em and flog ‘em would be a standard deterrent for any first offence, preferably at the some time, with drawing and quartering added for a second offence and no doubt a burning at the stake for recidivists.

Mercy and compassion are alien territory for Harvey, a man who believes housewives will soon have to be armed with loaded revolvers when the go shopping , buys all the children, who we never see,  guns for Christmas  - apart from Gary who had a gun last year so has a crossbow instead – and positively wallows and glories in violence on television.

So, a sort of normal, fun-filled family Christmas with a smattering of attempted adultery, tears, tantrums, a new radical view on engine drivers and even a guest shot to death, at least for a couple of minutes, to add extra stuffing to the turkey.

Directed by Moorpool stalwart John Healey, who, incidentally, played Bernard in a Moorpool production 25 years ago, this a wonderfully funny production with an clever set by Healey, Tex Mason and Brian Phillips, the latter also being responsible for the excellent Punch and Judy style theatre for the world’s worst puppet show, while the lighting by John Bolt helps separate off characters for scenes within scenes.

The excellent cast keep up a good pace, developing a nice rhythm to keep things ticking along nicely for a real Christmas cracker. To 23-11-13.

Roger Clarke

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