“I can be pretty dim, sometimes,” says Sion Pritchard as Tom, an office-working film school graduate who doesn’t, initially, come across as particularly sympathetic. “I can really be a c*** sometimes,” he adds—just to emphasise the point—as he moans about work colleagues and the office Christmas Party. But there are other stresses causing him to come out in a sweat; it’s Christmas Eve, he’s about to miss his train from London back home to Swansea, and he can’t remember where he put the wrapped-up presents which his girlfriend Nat insisted he do back in the summer. The pair aren’t communicating very well; when she tells him that she’s pregnant, the news essentially makes him run out of the house. On first sight, Tom is a self-centred, commitment-phobic misanthrope—so, what’s to like?
An apt tale for any time of the year, but especially Christmas.
Pritchard’s lilting Welsh accent, for one—and the full humanity he brings to Matthew Bulgo’s expertly crafted monologue, for another. Admittedly, it’s just as well these elements are so strong: Kate Wasserberg’s revival (for Cardiff-based Dirty Protest) has no set whatsoever, barely changes the lighting except to indicate the end, and avoids any soundscape beyond a pre-show medley of lesser-heard Christmas songs as featured in some off-High Street Pound Shops. The whole show essentially rests on Pritchard’s efforts alone, so it’s just as well he has such strong material to mould an increasingly sympathetic character before our eyes.
It helps, of course, that much of the script is very funny: not just the shared horrors of the Office Christmas Party but also his increasingly drunken reunion with a trinity of old friends—still in Swansea, still defined by their playground nicknames (“Blanky”, “Bins”, and “Spanner”). What keeps us listening, however, is the slowly uncovered human story underneath; that, the previous Christmas, Tom’s father died—and he quite clearly hasn’t come to terms with it. Suddenly, his reaction to the news of his own impending fatherhood makes so much more sense; not least because, since he’s grown a beard, everyone says he looks so much like his dad—the father he misses and clearly feels unworthy of succeeding.
At one point Tom tells us how his father never shouted at him when he came back home late, drunk or high on drugs—he’s just give him a look that clearly said: “You’re better than this.” That is, of course, the look Tom is now so desperate to see one more time; but that’s impossible, and this tender, heart-felt work is essentially about Tom having to come to terms with that. Yes, there are points when it all becomes a bit James Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life—perfectly undercut by Tom then referencing… James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life—but the result is a touching, heart-warming study of a man coming to terms with not just the past and the present, but also opening up to the future. An apt tale for any time of the year, but especially Christmas.