The Last Noël, a new play by Chris Bush, is touring South London libraries and community spaces before a three-week run at ‘Arts at the Old Fire Station’. I caught it whilst at the Wimbledon Library, an unconventional setting for an unconventional yet lovable Christmas show.
When the audience first take their seats, biscuits are generously passed round and there’s a short sing-along to Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ to get us into the festive mood. It’s slightly shaky as most of us don’t remember the tune for the verse. But our maestro, Matt Winkworth, leads us through on the keys with steely determination. Sure enough, we make it through and spirits are high before the show begins.
It’s 22nd November and preparations for Christmas dinner are well underway. The audience sit in the round with the dinner table at the centre of the space. Tess’ (Anna Chrichlow) mum is a doctor and father is a paramedic and so in this family, the date for Christmas Day revolves around their busy schedule.
Alice (Annie Wensak), Tess’ nan and Uncle Mike (Dyfrig Morris) all patiently wait for the parents to return home. To pass the time, they share their favourite Christmas tales. The trio take turns in doing so by interrupting each other and playfully bickering over how accurate their accounts are. Some tuneful songs are also thrown into the mix, including a hilarious rendition of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ with alternative lyrics.
Bush’s piece radiates warmth but has a tinge of melancholy. Around Christmas time, we’re sold a picture of what a traditional Christmas should like, whether it’s in adverts, articles or in films. It’s as if when there’s festive merriment in the air, all other problems evaporate and families are full of smiles and joy. With ‘The Last Noël’, here’s a Christmas story that’s a lot more faithful to reality as it captures a realistic family dynamic and the undercurrent that often goes along with it. Things are not always perfect but it does not make things any less special.
The production under Jonathan Humphreys’ direction is lively and vibrant and is creatively staged in the library space. Anna Chrichlow as Tess glows with wholesomeness and has a beautiful voice to match. Dyfrig Morris characterises the larger than life Uncle Mike with animation and humour and has a powerful voice that fills the room. Annie Wensak as the nan brilliantly leads one of the more riveting stories of the show about a Lighthouse Keeper.
‘The Last Noël’ is a Christmas play for adults and children alike. It fills you with that same cheery feeling when you first see the Christmas decorations go up or listen to the first set of Christmas songs play on the radio.
The Last Noël runs until 23 December at the time of writing, https://www.attictheatrecompany.com/whatson/the-last-noel/ .