Bringing smiles and festive cheer

Season's Greetings

Malvern Festival Theatre


ALAN Ayckbourn's delightful Season's Greetings offers a most entertaining look at the grisly joys of an average middle class family over the Christmas period.

The play, written in 1980 was successfully revived in 2010 and is back touring to offer some light relief, a touch of warmth and just a hint of the ghosts of Christmases past.

Christmas has arrived in the Bunker household and as the children lurk just out of sight, it's the adults who are causing havoc, as disguised between the holly and the ivy – a dysfunctional family unfolds over four days of festivities.

Presiding over the celebrations are two warring uncles, a kindly, incompetent doctor, a wonderful bumbling performance by Christopher Timothy,  with an annual interminable puppet show to perform; the other a bullying bombastic retired security guard, brilliantly played by Denis Lill who dominates the TV, brings toy guns for his nieces and determines there's a thief in their midst.

Belinda, played by Glynis Barber recently known for her spell as Glenda Mitchell of Albert Square fame, and her gadget obsessed husband Neville, Mark Healy, are hosting the shenanigans through a haze of drunken suppers, party games and marital boredom. 


Sue Wallis who plays Phyllis, the meddling but well meaning aunt, spends a portion of the first act off stage laboring over the Christmas feast, and delights when on stage with an abundance of energy, enthusiasm and juvenile behavior as she revels in opening the children's Christmas presents by night and making disparaging remarks to her long suffering husband by day. 

Add the unhappily married and unemployed Eddie, Ricky Groves, his permanently pregnant wife Patti, Barbara Drennan and the insecure and rather desperate spinster sister, Rachel played by Jenny Funnell to the mix and a strong cast delivers an underlying sense of sadness and disappointment to an all too familiar scene.

Michael Holt's detailed set design enables us to look into all of the rooms at the same time, while the groupings are kept separate on stage so that we watch each family member's foibles unfold.  Although a bit of a slow starter, Robin Herford's tight direction has a mounting pace leading to a hilarious sequence towards  the end of the first act with handsome new arrival Clive, played by Mathew Bose, frolicking under the Christmas tree with no less than three of the disgruntled females.

Season's Greetings is a play about love, marriage, success and failure.  Aykbourn's clever observation of relationships is played out skillfully under the guise of a pantomime spirit but with a sprinkling of jealousy, deception, greed and envy. This production proved popular to the Malvern audience, however to me the jokes were a little on the thin side, and the ending was so ineffectual that one was left uncertain as to whether it had actually finished at all!

On the whole though, Season's Greetings has only been enhanced since it's original stint in 1980, produced by Bill Kenwright, the expert comic timing of an experienced cast has cleverly delivered an amusing yuletide felicitation to us all. To 12-11-11

Johanna Brand 

Season's Greetings is at Wolverhampton Grand from November 21-26

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