By Ray Bennett
LONDON – Alan Ayckbourn’s parochial English comedy Season’s Greetings seeks to burst the illusion of happy families at Christmastime but the set-up and characters are so contrived that it runs like a clock that needs winding.
Nothing is introduced without leading inexorably to its clunky pay-off. The noisy toy wrapped with the other presents under the tree will go off at the most inopportune time; the all-purpose remote control will trigger loud music in the middle of the night; the amateur puppet show will collapse.
It’s the same with the characters: the ageing virgin sister will wail; the drunken husband with the pregnant wife will have his comeuppance; the sister-in-law who drinks too much will drop the Christmas mouse; the comely hostess will want to bonk her sister’s handsome young visitor; and the mad uncle with the gun will shoot somebody.
The players are all game but the play’s predictability soon becomes wearing, the ensuing chaos phoney and the laughter forced.
Venue: National Theatre, runs through March 13; Cast: Neil Stuke, Catherine Tate, Jenna Russell, David Troughton, Mark Gatiss, Nicola Walker, Marc Wootton, Katherine Parkinson, Oliver Chris; Playwright: Alan Ayckbourn; Director: Marianne Elliott; Set designer: Rae Smith; Lighting designer: Bruno Poet; Music: Stephen Warbeck; Sound designer: Ian Dickinson.