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Christmas Crackers – Live Theatre

Wow, I think the last time I was at the Live Theatre was for last year’s excellent Christmas production, The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes. I don’t need to go on about how time has flown by this year. I’m sure you’re already wondering where the year’s gone. Instead of one show, this year Live has opted for four short, festive plays by four North East-based playwrights who were discovered through the theatre’s Artist Development Programme. I love how the audience can get really up close and personal in this theatre with tables and chairs around the stage. 

The first piece, Clementines (written by Tamsin Daisy Rees) provided a heavy dose of Christmas realism. Three siblings, Tess, Sam and Charlie are getting ready for the slightly unorthodox school Christmas Show (Shakespeare + nativity). Charlie (played by the hilarious Sarah Balfour) is a volatile teenage drama queen, freaking out about playing Romeo. Her brother Sam (Dale Jewitt) seems like the sensible one, holding things together in the absence of their mother, but he’s got a severe case of unrequited love for a fireman. His protective sisters think he deserves better. Tess (Katie Powell) is working at a call centre and it seems pretty friendly with her boss who will be at the play. Cue a falling out over Sam’s nut roast (thanks for reminding me to find a good one this year or even make one), plenty of the usual sibling banter with plenty of comedy and falling out, but an undertone of real love (“what hurts you always hurts me”). Even when we make dubious choices, they’re still there for us. A touching comedy.
Sarah Balfour (Charlie), Katie Powell (Tess) and Dale Jewitt (Sam)
The second piece, Grounded by Henry Lawrence was a bit more serious. Daniel Watson (who starred in last year’s show) plays Eddie, a caring teenager who we find out has just failed his A-levels and has ended up in a bit of a dead end job. After the mother of all family rows, he finds an injured pigeon in the street and brings it’s back to his Dad’s new home in a chip box (cue calling it Chips). Both Eddie and his Dad (Micky Cochrane) proceed to pour their hearts out to the poor pigeon, before they start telling each other what’s really going on. At first his Dad is quite closed off, but he slowly starts to open up and listen to his son’s issues (they split up during his A-levels which probably led to his failure). The reality of broken families at Christmas is cleverly explored here. Eddie has struggled with his Dad moving on and threatened to ruin his younger sister’s Christmas by disclosing the truth about Santa. The main message – the importance of parents letting their children know that they don’t need to be perfect to be loved. Having faith and staying kind, even in the face of turmoil. Redemption. Chips being wounded reminding us that we’re all wounded in some way. Luckily Eddie’s Dad manages to take the first step to putting things right and overcoming the disconnection they’ve both felt with a thoughtful present.
Daniel Watson (Eddie) left and Micky Cochrane (Dad)
Home for Christmas, by Olivia Hannah is all about a Christmas house party with a Christmas miracle (not just the nuclear punch). Santa (Dale Jewitt)  is invited to the party, looking a bit dishevelled. At first I thought it was a Christmas Chronicles situation (is this the real Santa?) but he turns out to know everyone and has fallen on hard times. It’s interesting to see how some of the guests react, and struggle to show kindness to someone who’s homeless. The party gets in full swing, with Santa joining in with ‘Never Have I Ever’ and disclosing he gets sent nude pics on the internet (inspired by Bad Santa)? Secrets are revealed and the truth about the guess comes out. The ending really epitomises the spirit of Christmas – acs of kindness with lots of laughs thrown in for good measure.

The final piece, Marbles by Jamie Morren features all of the ensemble cast in a touching yet action- packed play about family and imagination. We meet kindly Uncle Pat (Micky Cochrane) who’s getting nostalgic about food with his ‘grandkids’ (they’re not related but neighbours and see him as their Grandpa). Typically they’ve all got their faces glued to their iPhones and aren’t listening. We see flashbacks to simpler times when the kids got marbles for Christmas and appreciated them, before tech took over (loved the Home Alone reference when they were used as a booby trap). How much better was Christmas as a kid when you had to use your imagination? Next Uncle Pat’s new ashtray becomes a flux capacitor and we’re transported into Back To The Future (loved the line “I wished for the future when all I could see was the past) before a foray into arguably the best Christmas film of all time with our favourite bald man in a white vest, John McClane from Die Hard (not forgetting Hans Gruber with his machine gun and German accent). Uncle Pat loves his films until the very end. 

Overall, great writing and a cast that are really in synch with each other makes for a moving and entertaining festive night out. Don’t miss it!

Catch Christmas Crackers at the Live Theatre until Saturday 22nd December – get your tickets here

* I received two tickets in exchange for a review

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