First published in The Times, Monday December 13 2021
Amid this year’s seasonal feast of pantomimes, musicals and comedy shows, the Lyceum, Edinburgh, is serving something altogether different. Christmas Dinner is a new play — written by Robert Alan Evans and produced in association with Catherine Wheels, a leading children’s company — that seeks to celebrate no less than the redemptive power of theatre itself.
The Scrooge in Evans’s contemporary variation on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is Lesley (played by Elicia Daly), a stagehand we first encounter sweeping up and packing away props on Christmas Eve. She’s a dour sort who refuses her colleagues’ invitation to the pub. She’ll spend the following day alone, she says, with a meat feast pizza and a mountain of chocolate.
The theatre isn’t happy with this state of affairs, however. With a keening moan and a flickering of the lights, it summons four ghosts to put on an impromptu performance and rekindle a sense of magic and wonder. We meet Fruity (Richard Conlon), the great man of the stage, resplendent in robe and skullcap and Madame Lady (Florence Odumosu), a theatre-lover and sometime critic, with Ronan McMahon’s gofer and Sita Pieraccini’s mime artist Bird Girl also along for the ride. The motley quartet has plenty of ideas, but can a rack of random costumes, a few props and a lighting board really cut to the heart of Lesley’s melancholy?
Evans’s concept is inspired and Gill Robertson’s production is especially poignant at a time when post-pandemic theatrical recovery feels fragile. The script takes a while to get going but the show springs to life with the arrival of the ghosts. As is right for the time of year, the show contains a rich mix of light and shade, from the silly comedy of dancing carrots and nut roasts to some truly spectacular set pieces, transporting us all the way from a bare stage to levitating actors accompanied by spectacular lighting and sound effects.
Box office: 0131 248 4848, to Jan 2. Lyceum.org.uk