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Friday, 22 December 2017

REVIEW: Christmas Cabaret at Newcastle Alphabetti

WHAT A YEAR IT'S BEEN.
WHAT A JOURNEY.

Newcastle Alphabetti Theatre
Until Friday 22nd December 2017

The final production at Alphabetti before the New Year’s Eve celebrations is a club sandwich of Christmas reality served between slices of sweet musical sing-along jam. Our host Becky Musgrove handed out mince pies as we took our seats and Becky started the community singing with ‘Let It Snow!’. The effect of the music at this stage in the show was to gel the audience together before the first play.

A Very Mediocre Christmas by Gary Kitching starring Tony Neilson and directed by Rachael Walsh
They said:
“Meet Frank.
You may know him by a different name.
Santa Clause, St Nicholas, Father Christmas.
Meet the Jolly Elf. He actually isn’t that Jolly. He’s also not an Elf.
He’s filled in for the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny too.
But when the magic has gone what does that mean for Frank?
Sherry. In a pint glass, that’s what.
Have a Very Mediocre Christmas with Frank.”

Frank is having to adjust to a new type of Christmas. He has gone from being a Dad and playing Santa to his children to having grown up kids that don’t plan to spend Christmas with him. Gary Kitching’s script has Tony Neilson flipping between his character Frank and Tony apparently as himself with a flip of a Santa hat.  There is that nice contrast between Frank’s own childhood and the traditions that he set up with his own children. Some memories of the crap toys that were available back in the day reignited the memory of the older members of the audience. Seeing the black and white adverts on the screen added to the sensitivity of the piece.

Becky Musgrove returned to take us through ‘Santa Baby’ before the next bit of dramatic action is the shape of …

Poundshop Giftwrap by Louise Taylor starring Rosie Stancliffe and directed by Matt Jamie
6am Christmas morning, and Tina’s just polished off a bottle of Bucks Fizz on her way home from the night shift. Hope you’re ready to receive her presents...?

You have to give it to nurses. They do 12 hour shifts in a professional manner and then they go home for Christmas. To what do they go home to? Tina is such a nurse and she lands at home and quickly realises that with all of the recent stress she has forgotten to buy the food for her Christmas meal. But that’s the least of her problems as she decides to open and re-wrap the presents that she had bought her ex-partner Richard.  We get to witness the trauma of a relationship break up after a 12 hour shift wiping bums and clearing vomit. Matt Jamie directs a very fluid performance.  Louise Taylor has written a coherent piece which has Rosie Stancliffe showing the full emotional nightmare that Tina finds herself in. The only worry is the apparent amnesia Tina shows as she seems to have forgotten a lot about the gifts that one assumes she had bought and wrapped herself.

The interval finishes with more collective singing as the audience join in with the appropriate ‘Santa Is Coming To Town’ before…  
Christmas Carol by Steve Byron starring Paula Penman and directed by Karen Traynor
‘Carol loves Christmas. She lives, breaths and dreams of the perfect Christmas. Unfortunately her husband Graeme couldn’t care less. A brief encounter with Santa Claus on floor four of Fenwick’s takes her on a journey, turns her life upside down and pushes her towards making a decision that will change her life forever.’

With a bottle of fizz in one hand Paula Penman enters the stage with a packed case in the other. However as the display on the bus stop states, it is Xmas day and there will be no buses today. She has left her husband asleep after he returned very drunk from the club.

Karen Traynor directs a gripping tale of excessive credit card spending and marital disharmony resulting in the escape to the local bus station. Though it is a troubling story, the Steve Byron script coupled with Paula’s infectious energy means there are more opportunities for the audience to laugh than some recent pantos we’ve seen. It is a believable performance which you suspect is far too common across the country as alcohol turns relationships sour over the so-called festive season. It is an excellent end to the drama this evening however we have one final song in the shape of my favourite ‘Fairytale of New York’.

The singing between each drama raised spirits – juxtaposed between the sombre feeling of the plays and the perceived jollity of what Xmas is about. The song choice was also clever as each song links in with the action too. This is a Christmas Cabaret like only Alphabetti delivers.

Review by Stephen Oliver.

When: Tuesday 19th December - Friday 22nd December 2017
Show Begins: 7.30pm
Tickets: £8 Full Price / £6 Concession (Student, OAP, Artist, Unwaged)
Age Recommendation: 12+

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