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Carols & Cocktails

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 22nd Dec 2015 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge

Carols & Cocktails – Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

Christmas is the season when we sights spectacularly high, when the pressure for perfection demands us to be the best at everything: decorating the tree; cooking the lunch; buying great gifts; sending beautiful cards, and hosting the perfect party.

Sentimental songs filled with schmaltzy lyrics tell us it should be a season filled with winter wonderlands, chestnuts roasting on open fires, and children building snowmen. Expectations are cranked up higher and higher until they become completely unattainable.

Carols and Cocktails is an office-party themed Christmas play that strips away all the layers of sparkly wrapping paper, the shiny ribbons and bows, and exposes the bargain-basket gift that is concealed beneath.

John (John Dalziel) is the techno-nerd interim head of IT, and Phil (Lawrence Neale) is his jack-the-lad assistant. Together they decide to hijack the entertainment at the annual office party and breathe some much-needed new life into it. Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans, don’t you?

Ben Dickenson’s 80-minute play perceptively picks away at the myths and traditions that surround the season of goodwill and reveals the failures, disappointments and regrets that, all too often, are lurking there just beneath the surface, masquerading under a veneer of jolliness and good cheer.

John is distraught at the break-up of his relationship with Carol from HR, whilst Phil has to deal with the difficulties of coming to terms with the problem of his Nanna (who is now  in a care home), a once-strong and selfless woman who is now frail and ever-more demanding. Throw in copious amounts of alcohol, and the inevitable home-truths that accompany it, and we can sense that trouble will not be far away.

But, enough of all that for now – it is Christmas, after all! The first act is a bit of a slow-burner, primarily setting the scene for a more dramatic/traumatic second act. The ‘banter’ between John and Phil is in full flow and the audience (ostensibly, we are the other guests at the party) are encouraged to sing along to Christmas songs and participate in the raucous merriment. Some of us, myself included, were even supplied with instruments to assist in doing this!

Although there are many issues, contained within Carols and Cocktails, that are begging to be explored in more depth, in no way could it be described as superficial. Dickenson’s script, combined with direction from Ali Pritchard, deftly illustrates the misery, loneliness and sense of inadequacy that is often associated with Christmas. However, it is never depressing. The two ordinary, but flawed, characters are all too real – if we look close enough, we can see them about us in everyday life.

There are no ‘happy ever afters’ in this production, but there is hope. Even if it is only the hope that we manage to do Christmas slightly better next year.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until 23rd December 2015



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