BWW Review: THE LAST NOËL, Clapham Library
Tess' Christmas day has always been different from other people's. Her mum is a doctor and her dad is a paramedic, so her family rarely manage to gather on the 25th of December to celebrate. This year - like every other - she's helping her grandmother and her uncle set up their big dinner while they all wait for her parents to come home from the hospital. To kill time as they finish off with the last touches, they swap their usual stories and share their christmas glee.
The Last Noël is everything a seasonal show should be: effervescent, joyous, and touching. A great antidote to pantos, it's pervaded by a festive buzz from start to end. Chris Bush writes a piece that's solidly anchored to those personal, unconventional traditions that every single household owns, and builds onto it with magnetic storytelling. While a delicate thread of melancholy running through it, the play is an uplifting reminder to cherish each moment with our loved ones.
As directed by Jonathan Humphreys, the production is warm and engaging. The audience naturally becomes part of it, with the performers addressing them as they were their guests. They weave their tales with songs and humour, going from grandma Alice's (Annie Wensak) epic yarn of a lighthouse keeper who's desperately waiting for her lover to Mike's (Dyfrig Morris) anecdotes from of his sister Gayle's wedding. Tess (Anna Crichlow) hides her impatience, explaining how she's grown up seeing life under a unique light due to her parent's profession.
With this, Bush briefly tips her hat to doctors, nurses, and all the medical staff who sacrifice their festivities in order to help others through immense pain. This emotional line, however, subsides while the trio sing Christmas numbers adapted for the occasion and go through the routine bickering of a close-knit family. Moving and gripping with its narrative, The Last Noël is a delightful kick-off to the most wonderful time of the year.