It’s Christmas and all the family are celebrating at Neville and Belinda’s. The children are unseen, but their presence is felt and indeed seems duplicated in the adults’ behaviour! Petty and not so petty squabbles break out and Christmas presents are rifled. Hilarious highlights include a chaotically incompetent puppet show, a trigger-happy crazy relative and a midnight love scene that ends in a fearful din from several mechanical Christmas presents!
Come and share in the familiar family frivolity and fiasco of Christmas!
Background & History:
Season’s Greetings is Alan Ayckbourn’s second play to deal with Christmas, following the rather brutal treatment of the festivities in his acclaimed play Absurd Person Singular.
On the surface, the play deals with a far more traditional Christmas celebration at the home of the Bunkers with all the family gathered around. Of course, this is ripe ground for the playwright, who slowly begins to reveal all the insecurities, tensions and frustrations of the family. The children in the house are seen but not heard, but the adults more than make up for this by practically regressing to their childhoods as the celebrations progress.
Alan has said in interviews and programme notes, the play is a reflection of his own family Christmas experiences. The idea of Bernard’s hideous puppet shows is apparently derived from Alan’s own experiences of giving his sons a puppet theatre one Christmas and his attempts to stage a show for them.
The play premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, in 1980 and was an immediate success. However, it was not immediately taken up for London. His regular producer Michael Codron had not had the success he had hoped with the most recent Ayckbourn transfers to London and Alan’s own experiences in London had not been happy. He was looking for a more pleasant experience in the capital, preferably on his own terms.
The play has gone on to become one of Alan’s most successful creations and is regularly staged by both professional and amateur companies. The play has been adapted for radio by the BBC World Service and was also adapted very successfully for television by the BBC. It was first shown on BBC2 on Christmas Eve in 1986 and immediately repeated the following year. In 2003, the British Film Institute chose to incorporate it as one of the best examples of the ‘television play’ on British television.
Alan Ayckbourn said of his own play:
“My late agent, the great eccentric Peggy Ramsay, hated me writing plays set at Christmas. ‘Oh Alan,’ she’d say, ‘not another bloody Christmas play.’ But I’d explain to her that Christmas was a gift to a dramatist. You’re always looking for a reason to stick a group of people together who can’t stand each other, aren’t you? Dinner parties are good, but what better time than Christmas? You’ve got three days together and there’s always bound to be at least a cousin no one can stand. I’ve seen it at my own Christmases – two relatives arguing bitterly over who should sit in which chair.”
“The family reunion, the pile of brightly wrapped presents; the log roaring in the grate; a children’s puppet show and a Boxing Day tea; turkey dinners; paper hats; crackers and streamers; around the base of the gaily decorated tree an extramarital relationship; a couple of stray gunshots in the hall. All the ingredients for a traditional English Christmas.”
Setting the Scene:
It is Christmas at Belinda and Neville’s house and they have invited their family for a traditional Christmas celebration. The guests include: Neville’s exhausted sister Phyllis; her husband Bernard, a doctor whose annual puppet shows are the stuff of legend and terror to both young and old alike; Neville’s friend Eddie and his pregnant wife Pattie; uncle Harvey, a slightly senile retired security guard and a television-addict; Belinda’s unmarried sister, Rachel; Clive, a writer and friend of Rachel.
Clive arrives late by train, is missed by Rachel, and is instead welcomed by Belinda, who is immediately attracted to him. Harvey, as a result of a misunderstanding, takes an immediate dislike to Clive, believing him to be a homosexual and prospective thief. Clive falls for the frustrated Belinda, after Rachel tells him she is looking for no more than friendship. He and Belinda attempt to fulfil their passions beneath the Christmas tree, but are discovered when they set off the various electronic toys and lights beneath the tree in, initially, their lust and then their desperate attempts to turn everything off.
On Boxing Day, Clive arranges to leave as soon as he can. Meanwhile, rehearsals are taking place for Bernard’s puppet show The Three Little Pigs, all his efforts being undermined by Harvey. Bernard eventually snaps and tirades against Harvey. Very early the following morning, Clive, in the process of leaving, is intercepted by Harvey who believes he is a thief taking all the presents. Harvey promptly shoots Clive, who is pronounced dead by the ineffectual Bernard. The ‘corpse’ promptly lets out a moan and calls for Belinda, rather than Rachel. He is taken to hospital and Belinda and Neville are left together, Neville choosing to ignore all that has happened.
Season’s Greetings is a black, though often farcical, comedy about a dysfunctional family Christmas in an average English suburban house. Themes running through the play include the loss of passion in marriage, and the tragedy inherent in the achievement of only mediocrity in life.
Bernard, a feeble-spirited doctor, struggles to support his drunken lush of a wife, Phyllis, and hopelessly attempts to escape from his problems in performing a dismal puppet show for the household’s children. Belinda endures a stale relationship with Neville, he being always too busy fiddling with anything mechanical out in his shed; she resorting to flapping about the house and constantly dressing the Christmas tree.
Eddie, a lacklustre and lazy man who tried to strike out on his own but failed, sucks up to Neville for work; his pregnant wife Pattie is largely ignored, and can only nag at him. Things are shaken up in the house as Clive, a suave writer, arrives, caught up in a relationship with the emotionally fuddled Rachel, Belinda’s sister.
Throughout, Harvey, a cantankerous military man, bemoans the collapse of society whilst himself gorging on TV violence.
In many ways, Season’s Greetings is a sad story about thwarted ambitions, unhappiness in relationships and petty squabbles at a supposedly happy time of year. For that, its achievement is all the more pronounced because it is frequently hilarious and even light-hearted in its exposure of human frailties and inadequacies.