One could say that it is a brave choice to put on a play about mental health at Christmas whilst the populous spreads festive cheer, and shops, bars and restaurants play Christmas music on a loop. But I guess this IS the time to put on such a play, as many people struggle with loneliness and isolation, feelings that are magnified at Christmas.
Threedumb Theatre offer their second Steven Berkoff play of the year, having performed Dog/Actor at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. When Berkoff wrote this play which was first performed at the Donmar in 1985, he received responses from many people who felt similarly, that this time of year overwhelmed them and exaggerated feelings that during the rest of the year, they could just about cope with.
Harry (Stephen Smith) lives alone. He is busy readying himself for Christmas; his tree is up, he has made a star from tin foil, and he has displayed his Christmas cards on a string across his living room. To the outsider everything seems perfectly normal here. But this is a time when Harry examines his life and his life choices, and wonders – why don’t I have lots of cards? Why aren’t I invited to parties? Why don’t I have family and friends to spend Christmas with? Well, he does have family; he has an ailing mother with whom he usually spends Christmas, but this year he somehow feels more depressed, that he has reached the age of forty, and still spends Christmas with his mother.
Smith inhabits his character completely, and initially adds a light-hearted touch to Harry. As Christmas nears though, Scott Le Crass’s direction steers the play into darker territory, and Harry becomes increasingly morose. The voice that speaks to him in his mind, encourages him to call people and it is this second voice that gives Smith a foil for his character’s internal agonies.
Visually, we are voyeurs into Harry’s living room. In the days building up to Christmas day, these are marked with changes of clothes, and an increase in the tension demonstrated by Harry’s increasingly depressive thoughts, exacerbated by his drinking.
Smith’s performance skills are outstanding, and the whole production does a superb job of highlighting a subject that is sometimes swept under the carpet. Highly recommended!
This production is in aid of ‘Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)’, and donations can be made at the theatre.
To book Harry’s Christmas go to https://kingsheadtheatre.com/whats-on/harrys-christmas – the play runs until the 24th December 2022.
Reviewer: Caroline Worswick
Reviewed: 8th December 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★