Set in 1992, it’s twenty years since Marie Jones’ play Christmas Eve Can Kill You was first performed, with Tim Loane and Dan Gordon reprising their original roles. This may be the last time the play can be performed before it truly becomes a museum piece. Mobile phones were still rare, with the first text message only sent on this day (3 December) in 1992.
Young squaddies may no longer set up roadblocks on the streets of Belfast, Ford Sierras have become extinct, and it’s obvious from the play that inflation has hit the fares taxis charge, yet the tragedy and stresses of yuletide remain the same.
Old people whose pride won’t allow them to admit they’re alone at Christmas, jealous mistresses, lotharios whose imagination is stronger than their pulling power, children estranged from their parents, and young fools in love. And who can fail to laugh at an English actor on a BBC taxi account who can’t pronounce Ormeau!
Tara Lynne O’Neill and Katie Tumelty are like the twins of the Lyric stage and slip comfortably into accents and characters that Marie Jones has gone on to develop in later plays. Louise Parker could tear strips off a book of ballot tickets with her tongue as she jumps between moods and emotions. Dan Gordon juggles being ridiculous, pathetic and vulnerable. While he’s far too young to remember it, Matthew McElhinney has the military red torch waving down to a tee.
There are raised eyebrows and quick asides as well as lengthy monologues as Mackers leans forward and confides his thoughts with the audience, even when he’s driving. Laughter ripples across the auditorium. By the time we’d reached the interval, Wednesday night’s audience had begun to applaud those getting their comeuppance and hiss those who needed to wind their necks in.
Theatre venues are challenged by the need for multiple shows to cohabit the same stage over Christmas. Lighting, set and sound designers double up across production to ensure a graceful fit. Other than a white door frame that most passengers step through onto the stage, the only fixed set on the all black stage is the white mesh outline of a car and a steering column. Five traffic lights flicker in the background as the car moves along the imaginary city streets picking up and dropping off fares. While the cue list must be endless, Garth McConaghie’s gentle sound effects when the taxi is moving make up for the lack of slammed car doors.
Christmas Eve Can Kill You runs at the Lyric Theatre
PS Did I mention the snow and the dog? If the Lyric sold stuffed dogs on the way out of the theatre, they’d make a fortune!