In a very physical, profound performance set over the course of the 24th of December, Charlotte and Thomas are spending Christmas together after the loss of their child, Alfred. They are hosting a meal with their friends, Nora and William, when their festivities are interrupted as unresolved issues are brought to the surface. Natalie Howarth reviews.
Writer Hettie Rockell set the play in the 1950s, a challenging and turbulent decade in post-war England with women’s autonomy still narrowed. Charlotte, played by the talented Lucy Fergusson, portrays a housewife who feels like ‘nothing’, claiming that her purpose has been diminished due to the loss of her son. She succumbs to the solemnity and solitude of being a childless mother, bound by domesticity and the four walls of her abode, while her husband Thomas, played by Michael McLean, works and is the breadwinner following his time in the war.
“No single word in English renders all the shades of toska.”
An interesting feature I was fond of was how the radio essentially had its own role to play. The radio is always playing, predominantly joyful carols that dichotomised Charlotte’s consistent despair, rendering her almost alien to the passing of time and outside world as she is unable to find happiness in ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. In the early moments, Arthur and Edwards’ radio reports isolate her from beyond the sphere of home and actively subverts her position in society.
Reflecting on the title, the word ‘toska’ is roughly translated from Russian as sadness or melancholia. However, Vladimir Nabokov claims it is untranslatable as, “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska.” An intriguing thought to consider at the forefront of a play where the characters find it difficult to even mention their emotions. Regardless of whether they were products of their time, this irony evokes a tragic sense of suffering so immeasurable and unquantified.
His character handed out Christmas cards addressed to everyone in the audience; this immersive experience excited me
Undeniably, the couple’s inability to communicate and exhibit emotions is a pervasive feature to the play. Following the loss of their son, both are in a state of mourning but are unable to connect with one another to grieve together. This was indicated in their longing and wistful glances in the direction of one another, but they can never quite meet each other’s eyes.
Despite its bleak essence, there were moments of comic relief that captivated the audience: manifested in the character of Robert the postman, played by the entertaining William Morgan. On arrival, his character handed out Christmas cards addressed to everyone in the audience; this immersive experience excited me for what was to come!
Two significant characters that assisted with the comic relief and, somewhat, catharsis of sour tensions were Nora and William, two friends of Charlotte and Robert. Nora, an elegant and vivacious character portrayed by Molly Squires was an excellent stage presence, successfully catalysing humour with her sparkling dialogue to moments of melancholy and welcoming roars of laughter from the audience. Alongside her husband William, played by Jack Nicholls, the pair of them successfully work as a team to spark laughter.
A stunning set production with familiar 50’s features and furniture from the gramophone to the retro wallpaper to the display on the top of the piano: reflective of a true home of its time!
This is a thoroughly delightful Fringe show with a range of talent, from the writing and producing to the actors.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
In-article image 2 courtesy of Natalie Howarth. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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