Clearly, the good people at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum couldn’t decide which Christmas story to tell this year, so they’ve done all of them. Christmas Dinner is a riotous, heart-breaking, heart-warming feast of a performance, liberally sprinkled with a gravy made from pretty much every fairy tale and pantomime you might think of, as well as a few you probably wouldn’t. Cabaret, anyone?
The plot is loosely inspired by A Christmas Carol, as four festive spirits are summoned to the Lyceum from beyond the grave. It looks like this year, as last year, there will be no Christmas play, and the theatre building itself is groaning with disappointment. Not helping matters is grumpy stagehand Lesley, who has gone full Scrooge and is ‘bah humbugging’ everyone in sight. It’s up to our festive foursome to get to the bottom of Lesley’s misery, cheer the theatre up with a story and bring back the joy of Christmas.
It’s no spoiler to say they manage this, and then some. It is hard to believe so much can be packed into the tight 75-minute run time. There are moments when the sheer volume of visual gags on stage is overwhelming and almost impossible to keep up with. The sharp script is delivered with great panache and proceedings rattle along to their conclusion with barely time to draw breath.
If the story’s ending is not exactly a surprise, the journey to get there is expertly handled and the audience is put through a rollercoaster of emotions on the way. Loud sobbing is likely to be heard at several of the more emotional moments, and when the opportunity comes for a Tinkerbell-like resurrection, everyone from the youngest children to gruff, burly middle-aged men are guaranteed to be fervently joining in.
The emotional journey is not just for show. It’s been a tough two years for everyone, and times continue to be hard for many people. Plenty of those coming to see this show will have suffered loss and grief in the recent past. It is to the great credit of writer Robert Alan Evans that the pain of losing a loved one is acknowledged, given space on stage and then gently set to one side, not to be forgotten, but to be kept safe until needed.
To tread such a careful tightrope of joy and sorrow requires great precision and commitment from the actors. Fortunately, they absolutely deliver. Elicia Daly’s Lesley has just the right level of pantomime gruffness, and her transformation into the fairy-tale villain of the piece is genuinely frightening, aided by the Lyceum’s ever-excellent stage designers. All of the festive spirits are fantastic, but perhaps first among equals is Sita Pieraccini’s Bird Girl. She communicates solely through whistles and mime, generating huge volumes of humour and emotion from just a cock of her head or a twitch of her hips.
Christmas is still going to be a challenge for many this year. However, for an hour and a half, Christmas Dinner makes it possible to lose yourself in a beautifully told modern fairy tale, to laugh yourself silly, to shed a quiet tear or two and to feel like just maybe Christmas has indeed been saved. In the repeated words of Florence Odumosu’s Madame Lady, ‘five stars!’
- Written by Robert Alan Evans
- Directed by Gill Robertson
- Photographer: Mihaela Bodlovic
- Cast: Richard Conlon, Elicia Daly, Ronan McMahon, Florence Odumosu, Sita Pieraccini, Janie Thomson, Hamish Wyllie
- Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
- Until 2 January
- Running time: 75mins, no interval