Season's Greetings: World Premiere Reviews
Seasons' Greetings (by Robin Thornber)
"What a consummate tease Alan Ayckbourn is! He toys with the audience, setting us up for a laugh, stretching it out over several scenes and then zooming in from behind to top up the punch-line with a reinforcement which is even funnier and even more telling: The only danger is that you miss the bonus because you're still hysterical.
His latest, Season's Greetings, is back on familiar territory - a middle class family reunion, and a singularly fraught and fractious family full of failures and frustrations over the Christmas holiday.
Only Ayckbourn could give us characters as touchingly, pathetically funny as Bernard (Ronald Herdman), the bumblingly incompetent doctor who bores everyone with his puppet show for the children he and his hypochondriac alcoholic wife never had. Or Rachel (Marcia Warren), the earnest, clipped spinster who has collected a rising young novelist but hesitates to hang on to him.
Only Ayckbourn could give us an entire Christmas weekend and yet keep the children - who, of course, it's all for - perpetually on the brink of brimming onto the stage. Only Ayckbourn could have the visiting novelist unzipping his flies to ravish his frustrated hostess under a Christmas tree - and then defuse the situation into pure farce.
Only Ayckbourn could have a cold-blooded killing before our very eyes and turn it into the best joke in the show. Only Ayckbourn could have a character spending the whole of Christmas watching television - just out of sight off-stage.
This is Ayckbourn's 25th play, and the 23rd to be premiered under his own meticulous direction at the Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-round In Scarborough.* All but about six of the earliest have gone on to West End and worldwide success, which must make him one of the most consistent comic writers in the history of English letters. And he isn't finished yet. Season's Greetings is already booked into The Round House for a couple of weeks next month, then returns to open Scarborough's Winter season."
(The Guardian, September 1980)
Season's Greetings (by David Jeffels)
"Alan Ayckbourn's Silver jubilee play Season's Greetings struck gold at its world premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round, Scarborough.
For this 25th play** from this prolific genius is a masterpiece and for me his funniest yet.
His insight into the characters he creates is moving and truly realistic. Unquestionably the most successful comedy writer of the century, Ayckbourn has emerged with new ideas and some superbly funny material for his latest play which heads straight for London's Round House after its short run at Scarborough.
The crisp, witty dialogue often had the audience in raptures thanks to the delivery of the highly talented cast.
Ronald Herdman has superb timing in his role as the benevolent doctor who with his tarry wife, magnificently played by Susan Uebel, joins two other couples for the Christmas holiday.
Like all Ayckbourn comedies, the tensions between couples and their involvement with others, make up much of this latest play.
Robin Bowerman shines as the innocent victim of the Christmas get-together and finds himself the centre of attraction of three wives. Tessa Peake Jones is highly convincing as the flirting host while Robin Herford too is strong as the aggressive ex-security man.
Lavinia Bertram, Marcia Warren, Jeffrey Robert and Michael Simpkin [sic] ably complete the cast in a top-rate play which must inevitably reach the West End soon.
Alan Ayckbourn is responsible for the superb direction and Edward Lipscomb deserves special mention for the design."
(Yorkshire Evening Press, 27 September 1980)
Season's Greetings (by Desmond Pratt)
"Mr Ayckbourn's latest play, his 26th in as many years, is being given four sold-out performances here before being staged in London for two weeks at the Roundhouse. It will however, be back home from October 28.
His new marital misunderstanding is laid in the well-appointed, house of Neville, a radio retailer and do-it-yourself maniac, and his alluring but neglected wife Belinda. We are in the hall, the dining room, the TV lounge and up the stairs to the unseen bedrooms and unheard children.
The action stretches from Christmas Eve to the morning of December 27, a Christmas period when children (unseen) dictate what the adults will do and the adults return to their childhood,
Ayckbourn has whipped it all together and produced a fine sense of chaos but underneath, in this warm lived-in home where the related married couples of Neville and Belinda visit for the weekend celebrations, the tensions of life show.
I am not at all certain whether the ending is too contrived, with the catalyst, a nice shy young writer brought to the house by one of the sisters, taken to hospital after wreaking second thoughts amongst the wives. But the impression is of the whole proceedings going out with a whimper of resignation, almost despair. This is the way things are, says Ayckbourn, and this is going to be how they stay.
But it is mirth that makes this a merry merry Christmas for the audience. In some of his best dialogue, full of eccentric wit and character, laughter rules the roost.
The cast, all of whom found a separate individuality for each character which fitted perfectly into the genial madhouse that is before us, are, in addition to Mr. Herdman, Robin Herford, Tessa Peake-Jones, Lavinia Bertram, Michael Simkins, Jeffrey Robert. Marcia Warren, Susan Uebel and Robin Bowman.
Mr. Ayckbourn directs his own play in a well-decorated and designed house by Edward Lipscomb."
(Yorkshire Post, 27 September 1980)
*Robin Thornber's assertion here is incorrect, by the time Season's Greetings opened, Alan had directed 18 premieres of his own work in Scarborough. It is also worth noting Season's Greetings is actually Alan's 26th play, at the time of the review Alan did not count Jeeves as part of the official play canon.
**Season's Greetings is now considered to be Alan Ayckbourn's 26th full-length play.
All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.