IF you fancy a slice of bitter sweet theatrical fayre with a twist of Christmas thrown in for good measure, you won’t go far wrong with 21 Round For Christmas.
Playing at The Hope Theatre in London’s Highbury until December 18, it’s an hour of fun – tinged with an underpin of sadness – as Tracy Sullivan cooks Christmas dinner while the extended family play games in the other room. You hear them, but never see them.
Extrovert Tracy, a marvellous Clare Bloomer, swigs back the wine as she burns her mother-in-law’s vegan tart and peels a carrot before giving up on the rest.
The kitchen is her sanctuary and she uses it to fill us in on her past – yes, there’s occasional audience participation. Her personal history is one splattered with doses of fun (mainly involving her lifelong friend Jackie) as she recalls how they used to hook well-to-do men at bars uptown and then reel them in like hooked fish – emptying their wallets in the process, usually after indulging in some carnal pleasures.
Tracy talks of past loves – most notably American Gregory – and her husband Derek whom she has grown to despise. There’s a super moment when a microphone comes down from the ceiling and she is the commentator at a boxing match between Derek and Gregory as they fight for her affection. Super writing from Matt Ballantyne and Toby Hampton – the latter also directing the show as well as being deputy artistic director of The Hope Theatre (clever individual).
There’s hilarious spats with her nemesis Carol – mother-in-law – and some moving moments involving Jackie singing The Pogues’ Christmas song (Fairytale Of New York) down the phone at her and kissing a picture of her. There was a time when Jackie was so stunningly beautiful she could have stolen Pamela Anderson’s husband (Ballantyne and Hampton’s witty words, not mine). But time has not been good to her. It all gets rather poignant which gives the play a gritty edge.
Bloomer revels in her role, feeding off the audience. Her Tracy swears like a trooper and is south London through and through. She’s not far short of sensational. And she seems to enjoy every single minute on stage.
The play will also resonate with many who entertain family members at Christmas more under protest than through love. There’s also a few Christmas songs – besides the Pogues – thrown in to lift your spirits and push the threat of Omicron to one side for a while. Oliver Ballantyne (sound designer) obviously enjoyed himself putting together the Christmas mix.
On the wall of the kitchen (great set design from Sorcha Corcoran) is a sign that says: ‘Some days you just have to create your own sunshine.’
Well , come and see 21 Round For Christmas and let Bloomer bring a little bit of sunshine into your life for 60 minutes to counter the physical cold outside. You’ll be knocked out by her dazzling performance. A whirlwind. Better than a kiss under the mistletoe.
For more info – www.thehopetheatre.com