The Last Noël presented by Attic Theatre Company
What is it?
The Last Noël is an original play with music by Chris Bush that centres around a modern family at Christmas time. What is it about? It is Christmas day...well, sort of. It is Christmas day for this family. The audience is welcomed into the family home as we are immersed into their dining room. We meet Tess, Mike, and Alice who begin to fill us in on what's happening: they're waiting for someone who is quite important to their family. No, it is not Santa Claus. They're waiting for Tess's mum/Mike's sister/Alice's daughter (and her husband Hamish). Breaking the fourth wall every so often, the trio explain that the guest(s) of honour both work in the medical field which usually means Christmas is a work day, so this year's Christmas is happening on a night they're all free: (insert date you see the show here). To pass the time, the trio tells stories of Christmas' past, all while we get to know the family a little bit more. However, there is a dark feeling in the atmosphere as the family seems to be withholding sad information from us. Throughout the course of their re-telling and the impeding arrival of the last two family members, we find out their family secret and hope that this is not their last Noël. How did it make me feel: The Christmas atmosphere that the cast, Bush, and director Jonathan Humphreys set up is very welcoming. Right away, our senses are tingling with Christmas cookies, wine, decorations, trees, fairy lights, and carols. It is a very warm and cosy set up inside this family home. As the audience, we are not completely sure of our role with the family. It is slightly unclear if we are just an audience whom they occasionally speak to, or if we are guests at their Christmas party. That being said, when breaking the fourth wall, it is usually for a cheeky aside, which Dyfrig Morris (Mike) does with such ease and comedic value. Alice, played by Annie Wensak, is the matriarch of the family, and we feel very taken care of throughout the short 70 minute run. Wensak has a true maternal nature and touches on the sentiment of her absent daughter quite early on, which really makes us feel for her. While I can appreciate the naivety of Tess (played by the energetic Anna Crichlow), I found the banter between her and her uncle to be quite off-putting and uncomfortable. I do believe the actors play their roles with conviction, however their dynamic seems more brother-and-sister instead of uncle-and-niece. In the end, it is quite a heartwarming family story that makes one want to curl up by the fireplace and read Christmas tales with our own families.
Where is it playing? The Last Noël is playing at Wimbledon Library's Merton Arts Space. It is quite an unconventional setting for a rather unconventional play, so this does work. Rather than using the stage within the library, the desks and shelves have been moved to clear a large space in the centre of the room. Humphreys creates a circle of audience surrounding the dinging room table. Whether or not the space is intentional, it seems rather fitting that a play about stories takes place in a library surrounded by books. You almost expect the actors to pick one up off a shelf in order to tell their tale. Due to this however, is the lack of stage lighting. We are subjected to the harsh fluorescent lights of the library, with our only relief coming from Alice as she gives her story, and involves Tess turning off the lights so we finally have our cosy Christmas home.
Anything Else? The library gives way to the intimate feeling surprisingly well and is the perfect place for a small Christmas play, which is ideal for families and adults alike.
The Last Noël played at Wimbledon Library, Merton Arts Space until the 30th November 2019.
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