Elin Williams visits Clwyd Theatre Cymru for a production of Last Christmas, written by Matthew Bulgo with Dirty Protest.
A one man show almost always teeters on the brink of slipping into cliché. It raises questions of intention. Who is the actor talking to, and why? It’s a risky theatrical device. What Dirty Protest and Clwyd Theatr Cymru bring us with ‘Last Christmas’ is a flowing, heart-warming piece of narrative, natural and engrossing. The first ten minutes are slow, but once the narrative settles down it becomes completely believable and entertaining. That first ten minutes of character establishment may seem unnecessary at the time, but retrospectively, this establishment is crucial in order to win the audience’s empathy.
Writer Matthew Bulgo has a real talent for evoking humour through regional dialect, and indeed in general; the monologue seems almost effortlessly funny. Sion Pritchard gives a sublime performance as Tom. His ability to jump from a ranting, repressed scrooge to an emotionally fragile father-to-be is skilful. There are a few lapses into cliché, such as the character who moves out of Wales to London, but such lapses become significantly less frequent as the narrative progresses. Brought back to Swansea, the character’s home town, the picture painted becomes even more detailed; the characters are vibrant and bold. Contrastingly, in describing his stuffy London office a feeling of genuine tedium is apparent. In Swansea, there is a sense of real place, of real people. This ability to evoke such a strong sense of place became one of the production’s greatest strengths. The audience were pulled onto Wind Street, were taken into each bar and heard every seemingly insignificant anecdote from an array of characters. Arriving in Swansea, Tom simply informs us that the words on the ground outside the train station read “Ambition is critical” . The words represent the character’s greatest insecurity; he worries that he let his father down. With constant references to his dreams of film-making juxtaposed with the reality of a glorified call centre, these words become ever more relevant.
In short, ‘Last Christmas’ is full of grief and inner torment. It really succeeds in pulling the audience right. The simple staging and subtly festive set are careful not to detract from the story. ‘Last Christmas’ is a compelling piece of work, performed wonderfully and perfect for a theatre winter warmer.