Review: The Holly and the Ivy @ Lichfield Garrick

The Holly and the IvyTake a cosy vicarage somewhere deep, deep in the country one Christmas Eve shortly after the Second World War, mix in a family reunion with log fires blazing, and then, perfect touch, it begins to snow. Add a pair of slightly star-crossed young lovers whose tale is not yet run, a couple of comic aunts, one glamorous, one not, a tactfully staunch elder friend of the family, a gauche but charming younger brother still in uniform and providing nobody gets murdered you’ve got the perfect recipe for a charming Christmas play.

But in this surprisingly complex work not everything is as it should be and if there’s a problem in this Christmas-card family it’s genuinely unexpected, because its fault-line is their paterfamilias the vicar who has failed to realise his young family need to come out from under the yoke of his sometimes stifling religious certainties and make their own difficult way in the post-war world.

The tautly-plotted first act introduces us to the ill-assorted inhabitants of this festive house party with a good deal of gentle humour but it’s in the second act that things really start to hot up. Now the real revelations occur leading to a near melt-down as everyone struggles to come to terms with their past and find some way to move on into the future.

Lindsay York-Jones is enchanting as the daughter looking to move on but hampered by duty while Tom Butcher as her determined Scottish suitor catches the young lover’s tactful urgency to a tee. Chris Grahamson as the irreverent young conscript shows real comic promise while Alan Leith as the diplomatic family friend generates genuine warmth. Joanna Wake and Sally Saunders nearly steal the show as the ill-assorted aunts. For me Philip Madoc seemed a little too introspective in the pivotal role of the father-figure vicar, t.v. type technique preventing him from projecting fully to engage the audience. The real star turned out to be Corinne Wicks as the erring daughter with a shameful secret.

Slick direction, nice set, good lighting and great costume make this a quality production. The highly-receptive near-capacity audience on the first night proved there is an audience for this type of grown-up drama and how lucky Lichfield is to have a local theatre to provide it.

The production including matinee performances runs until Saturday (January 30th).

For tickets phone the box office on 01543 412121 or go online at www.lichfieldgarrick.com.

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