All I Want for Christmas
Luke Bateman and Katy Darby
Jermyn Street Theatre
All I Want For Christmas is a play with music which looks good on paper, but fails somewhat in the execution.
Anthony has a dream of a perfect Christmas. It involves Mum, Dad, a girlfriend and the film What A Wonderful Life. The hitch is that he's too busy working in his well paid job to have a girlfriend. Enter Irina, the Serbian actress whom he pays to be his girlfriend for the day. But, of course, things don't quite go to plan when his dad starts hitting on his 'girlfriend,' his over-protective mum has suspicions about her and, worst of all, his mum burns the gingerbread.
The opening scene sets the play up beautifully the audience get to know the timid Anthony and the ballsy Irina, and the situation is explained in a way that builds up the anticipation for what looks to be a good show. The ending is also very good with a dark twist that makes the play more than just another piece of frivolous Christmas theatre. But the middle, how the characters get from A to B, is poorly paced and badly in need of rewriting.
The script by Katy Darby does have a few saving graces; there are some great one liners and some believable dialogue. However, it is erratic in its pacing and so there are a lot of moments that seem out of place. That the final twist is unexpected is good, but this is partly because there are no indicators in the script of what the ending will be. What the audience learn at the end doesn't tally with the rest of the play and many of the earlier scenes no longer make a lot of sense.
The music, played on a keyboard at the side by the composer Luke Bateman, is engaging but a bit repetitive, though this may be down to the lyrics which often resort to the same sentence structure and rhyming pattern. It would be interesting to know why it was decided to have songs in this play as they don't add much to the drama.
There are some good performances, particularly from Erica Guybatt as Irina and Rob Hughes as Anthony. Guybatt plays the proud Serbian with gusto and charisma and Hughes has a few good moments as Anthony strives brokenly for his perfect Christmas. Had the direction been less over-the-top, there may have been more good moments from both of them. Anthony Biggs's production abandoned truthfulness whenever there was a gag to be had, usually to the detriment of the play. In particular, a scene between Irina and Anthony's mother Jean has Irina practically laying on top of the disgruntled Jean in a way that's unrealistic and a little uncomfortable to watch.
Despite its flaws, the concept is still a really good one. With more thought to the motives of the characters, a gentler transition from beginning to end and some more realism injected into it, this could be a funny and touching play. As it is, All I Want For Christmas is merely amusing.
Running until 18th December
Reviewer: Emma Berge