When seeing a piece of new writing it can be best to have no expectations, to let the play lead you where it will. Often that’s easy, but with a loaded title like Last Christmas you’re bound to have at least some preconceptions. Luckily for this production, nothing else about it is distracting. It’s a one-man show of the most basic kind. No festive props, no tinsel frills, no fancy tech. The lighting has one state and the stage is bare, save for Sion Pritchard, our spellbinding storyteller.
Pritchard evokes atmosphere and personality with startling immediacy, inhabiting every character with ease and clarity.
Last Christmas, penned by Matthew Bulgo, is a monologue about bereavement, unravelled painfully and tentatively over the course of an hour. Tom, our flawed protagonist, is a Welshman stuck in a dead-end job, coming home from London for Christmas to face his demons.
Tom is perfectly honest with us about his failings, but his descriptions of minor characters – like his colleague and her honeyed cattiness – show him up as a sympathetic figure. Occasionally he drifts into fantasy, telling us exactly what he wants to say, before revealing words he actually spoke. It’s a very effective technique, allowing us to engage with Tom on a deep level, even if it does recall Scrubs at times. In one very effective scene Tom presents his reaction to his girlfriend’s pregnancy. His close examination of how his involuntary actions impact their relationship with an unspoken magnitude is extremely subtle and perceptive.
There are some rich and comical scenes, such as the depressing office Christmas party or Swansea’s dingy answer to Cheers on Christmas Eve. All of the characters we meet build up a picture of Tom’s life and past.
Pritchard evokes atmosphere and personality with startling immediacy, inhabiting every character with ease and clarity. Even if his boisterous old school friends in Swansea overstay their welcome, the final scenes provide a moving finish that hints at the profound.