Review: Christmas Voices @ George Hotel, Lichfield

This is the first of Intimate Theatre’s annual Christmas celebrations I’ve managed to catch and I hope it won’t be the last.

Now that I’ve seen it I think it should be a fixture in everyone’s Lichfield calendar, and obviously for many people it already is because I was squeezed in at the last minute to a sold-out house.

Devised, directed and performed in by Barrie Atchison, abetted by Audrey Hall, Ken Knowles, Sue Thompson and Fiona Willimott, all  stalwarts of the local stage, Christmas Voices is a cleverly constructed show, simple in format but slickly varied in execution, featuring readings, songs, recitations, monologues and so on, well-chosen and nicely varied in tone.

There’s a faint memory of schools pre – educational “resources” – remember reading books, talking and listening? In other words it’s all about the voice, interspersed with songs – think Radio Four rather than the X Factor and if that’s old-fashioned, bring it on is all I can say.

So there was a rich mix of poems, carefully chosen extracts and songs traditional and modern that featured not only writing by popular modern writers like Gervase Phinn, Alan Titchmarsh and Pam Ayres but also D.H. Lawrence, Laurie Lee and Alfred Lord Tennyson himself. The whole made a charming blend of takes on this special season old and new.

The evening’s second half aimed more for comedy, but personally I could have stood a little more sentimentality of the Salvation Army band and “every time a bell rings, an angel is getting their wings” variety.

I’m reluctant to single out any one performer from this light-hearted night and I know he won’t thank me for saying it because he’s such a team player, but here it’s Ken Knowles whose acting skills and sheer force of delivery raised this evening way above the common. This was especially clear in his marvellous evocation of George Bernard Shaw in the Irish monster’s denunciation of Christmas, “An Atrocious Institution” and in his contrastingly boisterous comic turn as Maestro Maserati.

All in all a charming evening which evoked the cosiness of a concert party in a snowed up village hall instead of  its rather grander actual surroundings of the George’s elegant ballroom. Roll on next year, and a merry Christmas to us all, as Tiny Tim used to say.

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