EFR - Reviews of Last Christmas by Matthew Bulgo

Last Christmas by Matthew Bulgo

Thu 31st July – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

Lili Thomas

at 09:19 on 4th Aug 2014

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Tom (Sion Pritchard) stands a solitary man one one side of a depressingly small Christmas tree, hands in pockets, watching the audience trail in. It was rather strange settling into the all too familiar lecture room during the hype of the Fringe, but Pritchard’s immediate charm soon lost me within Tom’s world.

Dressed in jeans and a faded red shirt, this Welsh-bred man soon had me eating out of the palm of his limp hand. Pritchard was spectacular in his blend of fast quipped comedy and slower emotional moments. At one stage Pritchard’s impersonations of Tom’s frustratingly funny friends had everyone chuckling - yet it was drawn from a background of vulnerability which Pritchard exposed intimately and expertly with the audience.

Bereavement and its isolating, draining effects made up the meat of Matthew Bulgo’s new writing. Tom’s loneliness was woven into the characterisation sensitively and convincingly. This was a play about an ordinary bloke, with an ordinary, life but shared with the audience in a far from ordinary way. I can fault neither the lightness of the script nor the beauty of the story-telling.

Alone on stage, Pritchard deftly portrayed the variety of other characters in his life but my imagination was left disappointed by the sparse set. Pritchard’s still and slightly slumped physicality perfectly depicted the worn down feeling of long term struggle, but at times I felt the lack of movement that seating could have provided restricted the range that could have been reached. Although the Christmas tree tugged us out of August and into December, its continued presence began to make the stage seem more like a stand-up comedy act. It felt undeniably strange to be sat in a play about Christmas festivities when I’d been willing the sun to chase away Edinburgh’s rain showers all morning. Whilst the festival is certainly the right place for a quality play such as this, the Christmas theme was out-of-place. Don’t, however, let this put you off; the play was worthy enough to suspend your imagination.

Losing someone changes life. Losing a family member changes a person. Tom’s journey home tracked the recovery of that which grief had smothered. This play showcased the importance of those who surround the bereaved. Although it was rather enjoyable to indulge in Tom’s rants against characters such as Suze and her impressive ignorance, it was the astonishing insight of the unlikely characters which allowed the audience to share in Tom’s emotion. Although Pritchard ended the play as the only actor on stage, it is a relief to watch Tom’s guard drop to let others in his life take centre stage.

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Anna Grace Symington

at 09:55 on 4th Aug 2014

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A moving tale, Last Christmas is Matthey Bulgo's one-man play about life and loss at Christmas. The piece follows Tom's life in the days leading up to Christmas. The script is well put together and has enough pace and movement to keep any audience engaged. Sion Prichards' Tom is brilliantly genuine and his timing superb, inviting laughter and tears throughout.

Tom is angry at everyone: his partner Nat, his work college Suz and his friends from home. His amusing portrayal of the various aggravations of his life initially mask the depth of his unhappiness. Both his account of the office Christmas party and of his reunion with his friends from Swansea are likely to strike a humorous chord with anyone who has worked in an office or lived away from home. This is not an Romanticised Christmas story but a realistic and witty depiction of the everyday irritations most people face.

Prichards' soothing Welsh accent is an attraction in itself. A good voice is important in a one-man play, and Prichards certainly ticks this box. His skill with accents is also revealed through Tom's impressions of his work colleges and friends from Swansea. The emotion that Prichard pours into this roll is evident in his body language and facial expressions. However the undoubted triumph of this piece is its spoken delivery. So much so that it would make just as successful a piece as a radio show. Indeed the performance is reminiscent of the sort of radio program one might listed to at Christmas on BBC radio four.

The small theatre, apparently a lecture room at the University as indicated by the desks, is appropriately intimate. There is only one stage prop - a sad plastic Christmas tree. This could probably be dispensed with as it does not add to the atmosphere and serves no obvious purpose that is not fulfilled by the script itself.

One final thing that cannot pass without mention is the difficulty an audience is bound to have in digesting a Christmas play in August. It is of course a triumph to have an audience welling up in the summer months about a Christmas story. And if the play was showing in the winter it would be getting four stars from this reviewer. However Christmas is something that is so inherently tied to December that, out of context, the full force of this play's potential cannot be realised.

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