Heading home for the holidays feels like the most natural thing in the world, I’m already counting down the days until the long drive back to the family nest for the festive season. But what if Christmas isn’t like the one’s you see in the movies? And what if you haven’t got a family or a home to go back to? Thirty Christmases, a play with music by Jonny Donahoe, takes a touching, yet comical look at Christmas in real life.
As we take our seats, the characters are busily wrapping presents and handing out paper hats, a few audience members are asked to peel potatoes, and the small flat which has been created on the New Diorama stage takes on a welcoming vibe.
As it begins, we are unsure what format it will take, the cast don’t seem too sure either, as they debate whether this show will be more Brecht or Ibsen. Thirty Christmases probably takes inspiration from several playwrights, yet Alice Hamilton has directed a very unique piece of theatre, which is both funny and moving.
Jonny and Rachel recount their last Thirty Christmases together, a brother and sister whose mother didn’t want them, and with a socialist father that didn’t believe in possessions, not even a house. They are dragged from the home of one virtual stranger to the next, picking up a whole host of bizarre Christmas rituals on the way, and when the patience of these good Samaritans runs out, it’s back to sleeping in the car.
Eventually the pair end up in foster accommodation, where they befriend Paddy, and all these years later it is Paddy who is trying to reconcile the siblings after a falling out. Jonny became too much like his father and that’s not what Rachel needed, leading to a decade of silence.
Jonny and Paddy, outside of this production are better known as Jonny and the Baptists, a successful comedy band, so music plays a big part, with instruments appearing from the most unlikely of places. Rachel Parris is a comedian, and the trio play and sing a variety of parody songs, usually taking the mickey out of the traditional Christmas tunes, and in particular the ubiquitous charity single. The songs are generally fun, and it’s easy to tap your toes along to the upbeat rhythm.
Where there’s comedy, there are also moments of emotion. This isn’t a traditional story, certainly not one you would see in a made-for-TV movie, the circumstances, and underlying issues are complex, so when Jonny confesses for the first time that he was “terrified”, the audience believes it, and it comes as a bit of a gut-punch.
Thirty Christmases is the perfect alternative to the traditional Christmas tale with a good mix of comedy and emotion. What started with the audience being welcomed in to an inviting home, left us all thinking a little harder about what ‘home’ really is.