It’s a cliche to describe a newer playwright’s work as “like X meets Y”, but less annoying than the usual bromides that could be accurately used to describe this play: heartwarming; tear-jerking; hilarious. So let’s just say that the Last Noel does what Annie Baker attempted to do in the Antipodes, set within a framework of an Alan Ayckbourn play. Which is to say it’s about family, and about story: those we tell, those we share, and those we pass down when we are gone. The stories that let us achieve a certain degree of immortality, which is why anyone really tells stories.
Set on a date that is not Christmas a family gather: a daughter (Anna Crichlow, gorgeously multi-layered), uncle (Dyfrig Morris, brilliantly acerbic), and grandmother (Annie Wensak, heart breaking, and dressed exactly like my late mother – which is to say exactly like every thirty-something middle class suburban English person’s mother, except in that multi-boobed jumper that recently went viral, in what I hope is an intentionally anarchic moment). They’re preparing to celebrate Christmas Day early with their respective mother/sister/daughter, for reasons that don’t become properly clear until the end.
It’s a remarkable thing when a play that breaks the fourth wall and plays with structure and meta-theatricality so much also somehow manages to be a masterclass in naturalism. Perhaps this is a cultural thing, but there is not a single moment in the Last Noel that I couldn’t identify with to the depths of my soul. Even if your own Christmases didn’t involved crackers and the dreaded sprouts (hey, I like sprouts), even if you don’t celebrate Christmas at all, there’s something deeply relatable about the universal yet unique rituals that come to define a family. The same fights, the same food, and of course the same stories.
Between shared biscuits (with the audience, if you’re lucky*) and songs both comedic and sentimental – a boozy re-telling of the 12 Days of Christmas being a highlight – a portrait of a family in crisis emerges. It’s all fairly low stakes, until suddenly it isn’t. Stories confer a certain type of immortality. Please, if you only see one Christmas show this year, go and share theirs.
*I wasn’t, but I’m not bitter about it and definitely didn’t tweet to tell Chris Bush that she owes me a biscuit.
The Last Noel continues on tour in South London and Oxford https://www.attictheatrecompany.com/whatson/the-last-noel/