Nights Before Christmas

Dec 19 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Chilli light night

The Village Pub: Wed 17 Dec 2014

Oddballs, strays and outsiders littered the Village Pub Theatre’s nine fine brief plays on the theme of Nights Before Christmas at the company’s Christmas show on Wednesday night.

It was pretty much standing room only for the event, performed script-in-hand by a small band of actors who had had just a day to rehearse. Guest director Philip Howard, currently artistic director at Dundee Rep, joined VPT’s own Caitlin Skinner to help bring the pieces to life.

Producer James Ley introduces the evening. Photo Thom Dibdin

Producer James Ley introduces the evening. Photo Thom Dibdin

And what vibrant, cynical, clever, surprising and entertaining life it was too. All created without recourse to a set – the pub’s Christmas tree, minimally decorated with one string of lights and a scattering of big red chillies, seemed to be enough.

There was Alison Carr’s I ❤ Christmas, a deceptively simple tale of an unexpected visitor on Christmas Eve. Jonathan Holt turned from uncomfortably naive admirer to outright heart-renderer against Victoria Balnaves Aitken’s preoccupied, seemingly lonely young woman.

Or Sophie Good’s slender Mary, set in a church on Christmas Eve, had Paul Cunningham as a forlorn priest and Jenny Hulse as a drunk reveller in search of a quiet moment. When its twist came, it felt natural, but this was all about character development and how the story was revealed in the first place.

Indeed, a common thread to many of the brief plays was their investigation of a relationship founded on desperation in some way. Giles Conisbee’s Smoke and Satsumas more than most. At least in its end which, if under-worked on its way there, left a bitter aftertaste of regret.

Stylistically, with such a short time to play with, the twist often comes at the beginning – the opening scene appearing to be one thing then turning out to be quite other.

Brief but lingering

So Samuel Jameson’s Gigolo All The Way seemed at first to be a cliched affair with a woman welcoming a paid male escort into her home on Christmas Eve. The revelation of her own profession and the brief but lingering development of their encounter twisted it into something altogether more enduring.

Flyer for the event

Flyer for the event

There’s also time for complexity in such brevity as Louise E. Knowles demonstrated in her three-hander Christmas Eve Is. Here was knowing comedy with Jenny Hulse superb as a girl who believes she has killed Santa and Paul Cunningham a recalcitrant, renegade Reindeer about to actually do the same. But all the while, Victoria Balnaves Aitken was gently building a seemingly separate strand of poignant isolation.

Surprisingly, perhaps, only one play went straight for the comedy spot. Actor Jonathan Holt turned playwright for Wiggly Worms, inviting playwright Sam Jameson to turn actor, as they portrayed a pair of toy shop sales assistants making the Christmas Eve shift just that much more stimulated. Perfect sketch material.

Grace Cleary chose the monologue route. If her Santa’s Grotty felt in need of a bit more work beyond the nice titular pun, Spaso at Christmas took a naive eye and cleverly brought it to bear the disparities between the theory and practice of Christmas and its message.

Caitlin Skinner, artistic director of VPT, was recently one of the speakers at the Desire Lines event up at Summerhall which discussed what those involved in Edinburgh’s cultural activities want to see in the Edinburgh Council’s soon-to-be revamped Cultural Policy.

At the event Skinner revealed that, when she talks about the VPT, people seem surprised by the existence of fringe theatre in Edinburgh outside the Fringe. And chatting to Philip Howard on Thursday evening, he too mentioned the need for Edinburgh to have more places to stage fringe theatre than VPT, Summerhall and Discover 21.

But as the evening progressed, and became a vibrant hubbub of new writing, with noise bleeding in from the bar next door, rough and ready performances and the delicious ability of this kind of theatre to take risks, if anything was surprising it was the idea that this isn’t the norm.

The glory of VPT is that it isn’t any old bit of fringe theatre, either. It has its very own distinct identity. So that when all was finally done, with Helen Shutt’s beautifully constructed piece about the reconciliation of ideas and the recognition of fellow travellers in Leaves on the Line, there was still cake to be eaten and mingling to be done.

Run ended


Village Pub Theatre: Groundhog Day
The Village, 16 South Forth Street, Leith, EH6 4DN
Monday 2 February 2015
8pm (doors 7.30pm)
Tickets: £3 (on the door)
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