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  • Chris O'Rourke

A Christmas Visit


Jed Murray and Lesley Conroy in Stewart Roche's A Christmas Visit. Image by Kamyla Abreu


****

There are those who correctly maintain that references to Christmas prior to December 1st should be outlawed, and those involved disqualified from receiving presents. Clearly of the opposite persuasion, The Corps Ensemble make a welcome return to the Viking Theatre with Stewart Roche’s heartwarming A Christmas Visit. Part of The Corps Ensemble’s delightful Christmas Craicers from 2019, originally featuring Lesley Conroy and Neill Fleming, A Christmas Visit sees Roche expanding the original twenty odd minute scene into an hour long tale. In which old flames and forget me nots find themselves wondering what might have been had they not broken up, setting up an unexpected twist in the tale.


Less a story so much as a conversation, there's little meat on these narrative bones. A la Dan Fogelberg’s Same Auld Lang Syne, boy meets ex girlfriend on Christmas Eve where they catch up on the intervening years over gin and whiskey. Seated on the old couch and armchair in his ailing mother’s home, surrounded by old photo’s and records; Mary Doherty's set and Sarah Doyle's lights evoking the ghosts of Christmases past. Damned if you got married and damned if you didn’t, damned if you made a success of your life and damned if you didn’t, damned if you went to America and damned if you went to Galway, unfinished business suggests Fate had other ideas for this star crossed couple and nothing else was ever going to make their lives right. But they never got the memo, or chose to ignore it. Now, on Christmas Eve, old ghosts can finally be put to rest as alcohol flows and loosened lips get to ask the unasked and say the unsaid. And if the answers are not all that thrilling, the twist more than makes up for it.


With Roche’s script steeped in expositional banalities, observational small talk sees depth lying outside the words, given life through two loving performances. Their humdrum backstories leaving much of the narrative sounding like prolonged foreplay. As conversations degenerate into endless character information you want to shout, "enough with the latent eroticism, shut up and kiss already." When the twist finally comes, and it’s a good one, the arrival of Helen McGrath sees what little narrative power the play musters falling away. Trying to establish a moral, it oversells its point at the expense of underselling its original ending, which packed a pretty persuasive punch. Still, Roche as director ensures Jed Murray and Lesley Conroy convey all that’s not being said. Conroy and Murray crackling with chemistry, the unclosed space between them charged with unspoken tension. Murray marvellous as the cringe inducing man boy needing to know yet afraid to ask. Conroy captivating as a woman on a mission, delivering a magnetic performance. Rich in tones, gestures, shrugs and glances, Conroy proves positively, if understatedly, electrifying.


It might seem odd suggesting an expanded play needs a little trimming, but the end places inordinate demands on Murray who gets trapped between two crucial scenes at once. The one he should be playing and the tagged on moral he’s compelled to play. Still, Roche’s work always has a generous touch of the heart warming, a dash of the macabre, whilst enriching the ordinary with traces of the sublime. Made all the more enjoyable courtesy of a mesmerising Murray and Conroy. No, A Christmas Visit is no satisfying Christmas dinner. More of a mince pie. But it’s a pretty tasty one none the less.


A Christmas Visit by Stewart Roche, presented by The Corps Ensemble in association with dlr Mill Theatre, runs at The Viking Theatre until December 2.


For more information visit The Viking Theatre

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