The Last Noël
Merton Arts Space
Reviewed – 28th November 2019
“a wholesome tale filled with festive spirit”
The Last Noël is a play that feels cosy and comforting from the get go. Before the main event starts, viewers are offered a biscuit and asked to join in a rousing carol to set the mood. The atmosphere here is clear – welcome to a familiar and festive world for the next hour or so.
The story revolves (as you could argue most people’s Christmases do) around relatives gathering together over unnecessary amounts of food and drink. Our trio of characters make up three generations of the same family, each bringing their own quirks to the table. Alice (played with immense charm by Annie Wensak) is the effervescently kind matriarch – keeper of the feast, and the rules. She is joined by her son Mike (Dyfrig Morris), prone to jokes and light-hearted bickering, who is uncle to Tess (Anna Crichlow) – a returning uni student seeking to make her way in the world.
United by memories, merriment, and the anticipation of the holiday season, the three await the arrival of Tess’s parents, who are both busy healthcare workers, and tell stories to pass the time. While at first the script and its jokes (Chris Bush) are perhaps a bit reliant on hackneyed observations and generational clichés – grandma doesn’t understand Twitter, aren’t Stag Dos silly, etc. – the humour warms up as the play gets going and there are some genuinely funny moments. And it is clear that the humour and references are intended to be kept simple and universal, to be enjoyed by a variety of age groups.
Punctuating the action are a few musical flourishes performed by musical director Matt Winkworth on the keyboard. The actors sometimes perform full length songs (again written by Chris Bush) or snippets of Christmas favourites with adapted lyrics, all woven fairly seamlessly into the dialogue. While none of these stand out on their own, they wrap the whole performance in a joyful atmosphere. The setting is in the round and director Jonathan Humphreys and movement director Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster work well with this, making it reminiscent of the traditional storytelling methods of old, when people would have gathered around hearths. As each character puts their own spin on recognisable tales, they bring more emotional depth to the play than might at first have been expected.
For some it might be oversentimental – and the themes and the content can hardly be called radically original – but it is hard to rate a show badly when it oozes so much warmth. All in all, The Last Noël is a wholesome tale filled with festive spirit.
Reviewed by Vicky Richards
The Last Noël
Merton Arts Space until 1st December
Other reviews by Vicky Richards: