Big Loop Theatre – Cheer
The Other Room, Porter’s Bar
Thursday 29th November 2018
Christmas. It’s a time of year where you either simply can’t get enough of it, or you are the definition of Scrooge. Whilst at times it can be almost unbearable: the mass of adverts, gift plans, cooking, cleaning, family and other concerns can leave you overwhelmed and even bitter. We’ve been seeing some interesting Christmas inspired theatre recently with Triongl’s Margaret and the Tapeworm, though what would Big Loop at The Other Room offer us as a jolly jab this season?
Cheer has a lot to say about Christmas and by golly, are we going to hear about it. This newly written play by Kitty Hughes is a thought provoking, Cromwellian nightmare where Christmas can only be gained through black market dealings. This alternate reality holds up a mirror to our own Xmas delusions, in the expectations of it being “the most wonderful time of the year”.
Here the two characters of Jules and Todd are both sides of the chocolate coin, each with there own fears, insecurities and woes. The play is best seen as the perception of how and what you make of the festive period defines your personality, stature and aspirations.
Jules is a bootleg merry maker, with Christmas stashes hidden behind a secret book shelf, brimming with tinsel, costumes and stockings (though not a cracker in sight). Todd discovers her in her lair and is after his own license, so that he can have the proper Christmas that he has never had. The beauty of the work is the relationship between both characters played by Alice Downing and Cory Tucker. Downing, in a curt and cutting performance is razor sharp here.
These roles are very clearly written for the actors, such is their watertight delivery. Tucker is Todd, the plucky and gormless lad who appearers to be more than he seems. He has great physicality here (his eyes glisten like baubles), with some moments of physical humour being well executed and some of his reactions to Tucker are just achingly funny.
Hughes’ script has cleverly used the ambient sounds outside of the space into the script. Jules’ lair is by a bar and also near train tracks, perfectly melding the outdoor sound world into the theatre space. This could have proven enough were it not for sound design by Matthew Holmquist which filters in when you least expect it.
Jolting and harsh, it adds to some of the more intensely dramatic moments when Cheer (a drug which can cause a brief festive high) has taken over the bodies and minds of both characters. Some down points are that the script could have done with a little trimming. Some of the recollecting of childhood memories and elaborate parties are overblown and become tedious after a while. Some ever more stark lighting choices by Garrin Clarke could have helped make the drug induced hallucinations more trippy.
Through all this is the fairy on top of the tree: the directing of Duncan Hallis. With a script as good as this, Hallis knows this and has helped formulate a well oiled machine here. Maybe Christmas has come early with this show?
A seasonal No Exit, brimming with wit & intrigue.
Cheer continues at The Other Room til 15th December 2018.
This review has been kindly supported by the Wales Critics Fund.
Photo Credit: Tess Seymour