Harry's Christmas

For many, Christmas is a time of togetherness and a celebration with loved ones, friends and family; yet for others it can be a seriously un-comforting occasion. Steven Berkoff’s one-man show, Harry’s Christmas at the King's Head Theatre, Islington, flips the coin on what a traditional festive play should be. Stephen Smith in the eponymous role lets us in on the life of Harry, who four days before Christmas Day, gears up to spend the festive experience alone whilst also battling with the inner demons of his consciousness.

The conviction Smith has for Harry’s final moments are gut-punching, emotive and transparent

Set in the 1980’s at Harry’s flat, we enter the theatre to find Harry in his living room setting up his Christmas tree with decorations and holding a can of Strongbow -a pretty usual festive task and nothing out of the ordinary. Above him, he has placed his fairy lights on the ceiling and behind the tree, a pretty bare selection of this year's holiday cards lined up on string on the wall. It is here where Harry starts his descent into the rabbit hole. Harry spends the first of his four days questioning the empty selection of Christmas cards on his wall, revealing that a few are from friends whom he never sees but who always write to say 'let’s catch up soon'. The rest are from family whose cards basically don’t even count. Harry stays positive that more will arrive on the last run ups to the big day. Relayed through pre-recorded material the niggling voice in his head does not and and suggests that he is just a lonely soul with no one around him. Determined to overcome his own obstacle of self doubt, the following days are preceded with Harry toying with himself as he attempts to call friends, ex lovers and family members. A quick call to his mother confirms that he is alone. There is no answer as she usually falls asleep during the afternoon TV watch.

With the day upon him the bottles of alcohol come out, along with an ominous tub of pills as he dreams of getting back with his ex-girlfriend and living a humble life together. As he slowly slides further down the chair, the fairy lights above fade and the intake of drugs increases. At this point the mood effects created throughout the play by the lighting and Julian Starr's soundscape really come into their own, heightening the inner gloom into which Harry is descending.

Stephen Smith effortlessly portrays Harry’s downfall with great sincerity and truth. For a piece written during a time when confronting mental health was largely taboo, it is clear to see that the material (albeit of the period) still speaks volumes contributes to breaking down boundaries. Christmas is a time for rejoicing and gathering with the ones who mean the most to us, yet it shouldn’t mean that we forget those who are elsewhere and with whom we do not share the day. It can be easy to fall into a state of stress and defeat which can lead to the unthinkable in some cases. Smith’s narrative of Harry fighting through his emotions and trying to see a way forward is powerful throughout each day that passes. When Christmas Day ultimately arrives, it is clear Harry sees no way of escape and no future. Smith's portrayal of Harry’s final moments are gut-punching, emotive and transparent. It leaves us questioning what more we should or could do fo or our friends, families, strangers and (most importantly) ourselves.

If we can take anything away from this profound production, subtly directed by Scott Le Crass, apart from the obvious thorough appreciation, it would a realisation of the need to reach out to the people in our lives, check in on them and make sure they are okay, to listen to them and let them know they are appreciated. We never know how someone is feeling just by looking on the outside.

Harry’s Christmas is performed in aid of CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). Donations can be made via this link https://www.thecalmzone.net/

Reviews by Gareth Williams

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Since you’re here…

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The Blurb

Harry sits alone in his London flat, counting his cards, waiting for anyone to call him; perhaps for an old friend to knock on the door, or for an old lover to appear or just for someone to have a drink with. Waiting for anyone, really. Anyone. As the dreaded Christmas Day nears his sense of isolation deepens and he falls further into the trough of despair.

This portrait of loneliness and isolation confronts the huge, often unspoken issues that affect many people for whom the end of December, rather than being a festive season, is a time when emotional pressures are at their highest.

Harry’s Christmas is a searingly dark comedy that was originally performed at The Donmar Warehouse in 1985, yet the ideas explored through the life of one man in this complex and microscopic examination of society’s hypocrisy are as relevant today as they were then, if not more so and they affect millions of people.

This production is in aid of  CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).

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