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REVIEW: Christmas Crackers at Newcastle Live Theatre

Christmas Crackers
Newcastle Live Theatre
Until Saturday 22nd December 2018

Written by Olivia Hannah, Henry Lawrence, Jamie Morren and Tamsin Daisy Rees
Directed by Joe Douglas & Graeme Thompson
Designed by Anna Robinson
Original Music by Beth Brennan
Ensemble Cast Sarah Balfour, Micky Cochrane, Dale Jewitt, Katie Powell and Daniel Watson

Four short plays, on the theme of the family at Christmas, show the wide range of Christmas experiences from the highs to some of the lows but with a strong link of love between family members. 

A press night on a Friday night is not usually a problem but, on the penultimate Friday before Christmas, the Quayside was packed with taxis dropping off party goers in random places and preventing the flow of traffic. This acted as something of a prelude for the theatre as scantily clad people hobbled in freezing winds to spend nights with work colleagues, families and friends. You have to love Newcastle.

Fortunately, despite the congestion, parking at our regular spot – the Quayside multi-story – wasn’t an issue. I guess most people on the Quayside had left their cars at home so they could enjoy a drink.

Christmas Crackers is a compilation of four unlinked stories running at about half an hour each. The trouble then is to talk about them, without giving too much away, as they quickly develop. One advantage of an evening like this is that it feels like it moves along really quickly.

Written by Tamsin Daisy Rees
Starring Sarah Balfour, Dale Jewitt and Katie Powell

Mother is away looking after ill relatives, so it up to her children to try to keep the Christmas traditions going. Sam (Dale Jewitt) has returned home and is giving a vegan diet a try. The clementines are much more popular than his dried out nut roast. He is trying to get young Charlie (Sarah Balfour) ready for her school show Romeo and Juliet At Christmas. Added to this mix is the hungover middle child Tess (Katie Powell) who has ended up in an unsatisfying dead end job.

Tamsin Daisy Rees studies the family friction with frequent humour but she also manages to capture the glue that keeps family units together. Yes, the older siblings wind up Charlie about an accident that she had when she was younger but they also want her to put her best foot forward during that evening’s show. As a snapshot of a group of people getting ready to go out, it seems a simple premise but a lot of social chemistry is unearthed. Director Joe Douglas ensures a tight entertaining performance.

The only “but” is that the evening is billed as suitable for ages 14+. Nothing is said that isn’t spoken in playgrounds of high schools up and down the country but it might not be what you’d want share on a family night out. Having said that, I’m probably over reacting…

Written by Henry Lawrence
Starring Micky Cochrane and Daniel Watson

After the action of the first story, we find ourselves with Eddie (Daniel Watson) who has arrived at his Dad’s house with an injured pigeon which he has carried in a fish and chip box. When Dad Martin (Micky Cochrane) arrives, it becomes clear that a lot of water has passed under the bridge and they both have issues to talk about.

Eddie has tried to keep life normal for his younger sister (who remains asleep off set). Filling in on Santa duties, he tries to look after her but an earlier event was a step too far.

This is a moving two-handed play. Micky Cochrane shows his emotive side as the Dad tries to paper over the cracks. Daniel Watson conveys the complexities of youth.   Under director Graeme Thompson, the characters in Henry Lawrence’s tale are intricate rather than one- dimensional.  A remarkable amount of emotion is channelled in a short period of time. Like a great soap opera, you wondered what happens next.

Home for Christmas
Written By Olivia Hannah
Starring Sarah Balfour, Dale Jewitt, Katie Powell and Daniel Watson

Jack (Daniel Watson) brings Santa (Dale Jewitt) home after seeing him sleeping rough near Tescos. This produces a range of reactions from housemates Amy (Katie Powell) and Lex (Sarah Balfour). Writer Olivia Hannah takes an often humorous take on the, at times, absurd scenario. Why does Santa know so much about them? Why does he seem familiar and, more the point, why has Jack invited him to the party?

Groups of friends will share lots of secrets but they’ll hold other ideas back and the revealing of their deepest thoughts can suddenly change the dynamic of the group. This is Abigail’s Party for 2018.

Written by Jamie Morren
Starring Sarah Balfour, Micky Cochrane, Dale Jewitt, Katie Powell and Daniel Watson

Jamie Morren’s Marbles unites the whole ensemble in a very emotional end to the evening. Grandad Pat (Micky Cochrane) is around for Christmas dinner yet his enthusiasm is not being match by the rest of the family. His recollections of fun times in the past is in sharp contrast to a family fixated with their smart phones.

Joe Douglas is successful in directing a show in which the past is explored through the eyes of the present. Jamie Morren has written something that reminds me of the great Dennis Potter hits in the 1980s. There was a time when you’d get great drama, such as the 4 plays that make up Christmas Crackers, on television. I’m pleased they still have a place thanks to organisations like Live Theatre.

Christmas Crackers brings to the season’s drama festivities what the Fairytale of New York gave to Christmas hits. A fresh break from the pantos, that dominate the theatre schedules at this time of the year, this show is typically “Live Theatre” in that it isn’t typical at all. Four new writers have been given an exciting opportunity, and a great ensemble cast, to present interesting ideas. There are plenty of laughs and strong underlying messages but nothing here is preachy or “right on”. It is left up to the individual to chew over events.

Christmas Cracker represents four golden nuggets of Christmas.

Review by Stephen Oliver

Tickets: £10-£14, concs from £6
8pm, Sat matinee 2pm, running time approx. 2hrs, incl. interval
Suitable for ages 14+
Contains some strong language and some mild sexual references

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