Monday, 12 December 2016

“Comfort & Joy” by Mike Harding
Nottingham Lace Market Theatre
Mike Harding is not so well known as a playwright and author even though he has written more than 40 plays and books over the years.If you get Harding's Northern sense of humour, you'll love this.
We see characters we recognise from our own Christmas pasts – the out-of-tune carol singers, the new neighbours, the relatives who come home for Christmas, the daughter’s new boyfriend, Crispin!
It turns out that Crispin has one of the funniest parts in the play when he attempts to play charades ... a game he has never played before with a family he’s never met before! I guarantee that you would never guess his charade in a million years.
Add to all this is an assortment of unseen, but heard animals.
Trumpton, the dog, who barks from the wings who has a nasty habit of producing windy bottom smells; two cats who’ve had an ‘accident’ or two in the car; 12 stick insects who get mixed up with a bowl of twiglets and not forgetting the turkey who, although cooked , was last seen being dragged down the path by the dog.
Goff, is played by Dan Maddison. bringing back all the best, and worst traits of Jim Royle from the TV series "The Royle Family", a wonderful character role for Dan.
Margaret (Helen Sharp) is the typical wife at Christmas She is in charge of everything to do with organising Christmas and she knows the full regime and timetable and keeps the family on track, despite everything that is thrown in her way. Helen does a fantastic job with the character filled part. At times it seemed as if Helen was channelling a mix of Victoria Wood and Julie Walters in this role
Helen (Amy Farmer) is a teacher and vegetarian and animal activist who takes the stick insects home for the festive break. A lovely, breezy and fun performance and you can tell from the twinkle in her eye that she loved playing this role; either that or she is an even better actress than I give her credit for.
Martin (Andy Taylor) is Margaret's Dublin born hubby who has a wicked sense of Irish humour, especially when he tells of his elocution lessons after listening to Crispin's arty revelations. A lovely bit of comedy writing. I'm not sure if Andy is Irish at all but he does a good and consistent job with de accent to be sure!
Fiona (Beverley Anthony) is the daughter who has returned from Australia for Christmas with her husband Jimmy after 30 years away from her father Goff. Beverley has one of those very expressive faces and at times she doesn't even have to say anything to get a smile from you
Jimmy (John Anthony) who, we discover is a bit of a dark horse at the end of the play, and we find out from him what really happened to Goff's saw!
Chapman and Hughie are both played by Marcus Wakely. Oh the things we discover the neighbours, Monica and Chapman have been up to. One role Marcus plays with a complete straight face, the second, he gets to let loose a bit! Two different roles but great fun to watch Marcus work them.
Also doubling up parts is Sue Drew who plays both Monica and Pat.As with Marcus' roles, great fun with the two different roles, and who'd of thought the fun you could have while walking your dog!! really out of this world. Pat at first is the hero but soon her past comes back to haunt her.
Kathy (Dani Wain) is the daughter of Martin & Margaret. She has brought Crispin home for Christmas as she has taken pity on him. Another brilliant character role, in fact all of the roles have been written packed with character as only Harding can do and Dani seems to be in her element as the slightly upper class role whose accent slips only when she forgets herself. The character that is not Dani..
The boyfriend, Crispin, played by Robert Chilton. The only Southern character in the play and, as such, a target for the Northerners. Bless him, he tries his best to fit in but just doesn't quite get there.
Directed by Mary Deane, at times it seems to labour a bit, but I imagine that this was deliberate in the same way that The Royle Family, at first were criticised for not doing much. This showed the "real" side of family life and, while on stage it's possibly not the best thing to have a gap or two, it reflects life in all it's Mike Harding naturalism. It was also noted that there were a few more modern nods which wouldn't have been there in 1998 when the play was written. Mentions of Trump and the TV series "Breaking Bad" refreshed the script just enough.
The set was designed by Max Bromley and i loved that retro look. it actually looked like someone's front room had been transported to the Lace Market stage.
Making us believe that there was more to the set than what you saw in those three walls was the job for the sound designer, Simon Carter as we heard the carol singers at the door, Trumpton the dog barking away on the other side and the approaching cars an the cat and dog fight. All these creating another world in our minds.
My only slight niggle was not with anything on stage, or from the actors but, at times, I thought, and I may be wrong here, the prompt jumped in a bit soon and was a tad too loud. He was though there to do an important job, and he did it.Not having seen this play before, i wouldn't know the pace straight off so I may be wrong and he saw the signs that prompted him to prompt the actor.
I love panto but I also love a Christmas play where Christmas isn't the main storyline and that is exactly what this very funny, and well written comedy is. An alternative to panto for all lovers of comedy theatre.
A wonderful cast, well produced and directed with some lovely human characters. Another smash hit for the Lace Market Theatre, proven by the sell out audience on Monday night and every night including Saturday.
“Comfort & Joy” is performed at The Lace Market theatre until Saturday 17 December 2016 but, as I said, it has sold out so you may want to check for returns or cancellations, as this is the only way that you’ll get to see this production.

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