It’s A Wonderful Wee Christmas, Theatre Review
By Conor O’Neill
A Credit Union is a perfect backdrop for writing duo Caroline Curran and Julie Maxwell’s latest Christmas foray. This is their fourth year writing festive frolics for Newtownabbey’s Theatre at the Mill. The opulence of the exterior hints little of the mini drama awaiting theatre goers and at the raise of the curtain all external pressures are left outside. But be warned, this is far from a rip-roaring, rib-tickler; there’s more to this year’s writing than their previous shows have delivered. In short it has real flow to it, less sketch-like than their undoubtedly funny but less well mannered outings.
Curran and Maxwell’s acting skills are beyond doubt, so too that of their co-stars Abigail McGibbon, James Doran and Patrick Buchanan. In just over an hour the viewer is brought on a relentless, stressful, at times tragic, at others serenely funny tale of what might have been, could have been, should have been, but ultimately as it is.
Based on Maxwell’s love of the black and white celluloid brilliance that is It’s A Wonderful Life the two have upped the ante this year and while certain cynical minds may moan about the play’s seriousness, Christmas is surely the perfect time for a measured morality tale relying little on gimmicks, fancy footwork or massive budgets.
From 1969 to the modern day we follow the trials of a youthful Geordie (Patrick Buchanan) with eyes on big skies and little to hold him back. He bumps into Mary (Julie Maxwell), promises are made of, “Dresses in Paris, hats from Milan” but the moon turns out to be unreachable.
Curran’s main role is that of Cara CrackinBody, a narrator/angel trying to gain her wings from an omnipotent thundering voice directing her to save Geordie from himself.
Notable from a few minutes in is the lack of sound effects; dialogue alone is drama enough. The cast move through characters popping into the Credit Union for 50 quid loans, 100 quid loans, 500 quid loans, the amounts creeping higher as the Geordie’s tensions and frustrations grow along-side deaths, happiness, births, recessions, reputations and morals.
Before this starts to read of pure doom and gloom, remember the comic pedigree in the well here. ‘Keep your gunpowder dry’ is the modus operandi. Cara is an unlikely angel. Her pure white Nikes, leggings and tinsel-trimmed hoodie brings a little bling to the mundanity of older Geordie (James Doran) existence as they share a bottle of whiskey; a ‘bout ye’ and tiny titillating bits of innuendo are never too far away.
Abigail McGibbon’s older Mary is the subtle, kind, matriarch we all dote on. On a tuppence she’s changed character, the widow Mrs Henry F Rotter, then she’s Doris, plagued with ‘the gout’, bad hips, diabetes, sciatica, the list runs on. Mobiles with antennae, the financial crash of 89, Hawaiian shirts, anniversaries and eternal little incidents make for a memorable night for those of a certain age.
Sitting again in the director’s chair is Fionnuala Kennedy, teamed with designer David Craig the set and simple use of minimal props and movements add muscle to the dialogue. There’s a touch of voyeurism in the older Geordie stock still, statuesque looking on at his younger self. Not quite grotesque but certainly unnerving.
Well chosen words, simplicity, sincerity and above all, humanity are the keys to this little chestnut of a Christmas cracker. It was a dreary, slightly wet winter’s night on the way in. The way out chimed to the hymn of ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year…’
For a fraught, fearless and fun piece of Christmas hope phone the Mill Theatre’s box office on: 02890 340202 or visit http://www.theatreatthemill.com
It’s A Wonderful Wee Christmas runs until and including December 31