Saturday, December 05, 2015

All Through The House: a farcical Christmas dinner you shouldn’t miss (Crescent Arts until 19 Dec)

The Moore’s were celebrating Christmas early this year in Belfast. For the sake of their daughter, the estranged parents felt it would be good idea to show a united front. But with so much muddied water under the bridge and a wardrobe full of secrets, the turkey might want to hide under the table until the day is over.

From the very beginning, All Through The House is full of laughs and very unexpected situations. It’s hard to believe that this fast-paced farce is writer Judith King’s first full-length play. (She talked about the process of writing in an interview recorded last month.) And it's unlikely to be the last time we see new work from this playwright on stage.

Straight-laced Carol (played by Mary Jordan) acts a world-renowned TV series Reign of Blood. When she’s not away filming in Poland she’s at home in the house she shares with her daughter. Ruth (Victoria Armstrong) is neurotic, with more than a shade of OCD.
“You come first, not petty squabbles or old rows”

Coming to dinner are estranged husband Arthur (Stephen Beggs) along with his mistress turned steady partner Wendy (Maria Connolly). Arthur’s been topping up his tan ahead of a festive trip to the Canary Island and his face is pinker than his shirt. Wendy breezes into the house like a breath of … Storm Clodagh, followed by her mini-me daughter Pat (Bernadette Brown) who is an ex-best friend of Ruth.

“If the three of us can bury the hatchet, there’s no reason why you two can’t”

Later on another actor from the show Wolfe (Shaun Blaney) arrives out of the blue, more brawn that brains, and every woman in the house – eligible or not – throws herself at him.

Everyone is on edge. Actors fear for their characters’ longevity. Business success eludes Arthur. Ruth has made a big mistake in work. Carol’s traditional dinner menu must not be ruined by Wendy’s “hat nibbles”. And there’s a whiff of unresolved love in the air.

Director Patrick J O’Reilly has taken Judith King’s great script and created a firework show that does not disappoint. After the interval the action is briefly becalmed with lingering serious moments before Wendy storms back into action and pandemonium ensues. Emotions and relationships threaten to spin like a Catherine wheel, but even when Wendy finally explodes all over the dinner table, the display isn’t over. With no remaining elephants hidden in the room, the final Karaoke scene brings the show to a fitting conclusion.

Stuart Marshall’s set uses scaffolding to give shape to the walls between the kitchen and the living room and frame the doorways. A garden bench creates an outdoor space into which characters can escape and earwig at the mumbled sounds of raised voices in the kitchen. (It’s an ambitious effect.) With all six characters on set for around two thirds of the production, the lighting keeps the audience focussed on the main action. There’s attention to detail with smoke pouring out of the oven and the turkey changing colour.

Strong performances across the ensemble cast create a fabulous scene of Christmas anguish. In particular, Victoria Armstrong’s portrayal of Ruth sets her out as the most likely heroine right from her earliest sleepwalking escapade in #Elfie pyjamas as the audience come to appreciate that she’s by no means the most mixed up adult in the house.

Tinderbox’s All Through the House is surely the Christmas show not to be missed this season. You’ll laugh out loud for a couple of hours, while your chest tightens with the stress of the on-stage shenanigans. It’ll certainly put most Christmas catastrophes in your house into perspective! With strong language throughout, it’s suitable for 14 years and above. All Through The House runs in the Crescent Arts Centre until 19 December. Tickets £14 (£10 concession).

Production photos by Neil Harrison.

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