THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT. Two-act dark comedy by Frederick Stroppel. Directed by Sheila McCormick.  Set/lighting: Fin McCormick. Milnerton Players. Until 8 December.

SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews.

The Christmas Spirit: Review

How would you react if, on your way to bed, you heard a late night news reader mention vast numbers killed in an earthquake in Pakistan; and, as often as you switched off the Christmas tree lights, they flicked on again? Being Christmas Eve, when magical things do happen, you might (fleetingly) think Santa had arrived early to play games with you.

However, if you are feisty Julia Dowling (Beryl Eichenberger) and a tall, gentle-faced, soft spoken man, clad all in white steps into your living room announcing he’s not Santa Claus but Death (Simon Speck) and he’s come for you, you’ll flatly refuse to go.

As this sharp reaction stumps Death he calls in young Matthew (Gary Green) to help. Matthew recently committed suicide after his girlfriend broke up with him. And although he’s not unhappy, he now realises that shooting himself over a girl was a stupid thing to do. Julia continues arguing her reasons for not going. She has unfinished business with her daughter Sue who never answers her calls; it would be rude for her family to find her dead before celebrating Christmas together; the children would be disappointed at not receiving their Christmas presents. Besides, the goose needs to be to cooked.

Death’s problem is, he has a daily quota of soul gathering to meet. However, when Julia suggests instead of her he adds one unknown earthquake victim, and invites him to Christmas dinner … he agrees.

The Christmas Spirit is comedic rather than macabre

The Christmas Spirit: Review

That all may sound rather morbid. But, under Sheila McCormick’s perceptive handling of Frederick Stroppel’s satirical, edgy script the comic rather than the macabre is highlighted. And she’s directed her disciplined cast to bring out, but not exaggerate, typical tensions at family gatherings where personality clashes exist.

Biggest irritations were faultfinding Aunt Rosemary (Brigitte Scherz) and Uncle Bernie (Trevor Joubert), her nerdish, bordering on alcoholic, husband. Under duress they accepted Julia’s surprise invitation. Paul (Werner Steffen) brought Melissa (Nakita Allen) to meet his mother Julia, but the bulimic Melissa spent half her visit flirting with Matthew or running upstairs to the bathroom, leaving Paul a rather lost soul.

Father John (Richard Wade), another surprised guest, diplomatically helped smooth ruffled feathers. He even offered himself to Death, in order that Julia could live a little longer.

Initially Julia’s beautiful daughter Beth (Melissa Sanderson) couldn’t fathom her mother’s sudden desire to gather all her family for Christmas lunch, as well as inviting “Jack” –  a total stranger. When she learnt “Jack’s” mission, she realized how much she loved her mother and did her best to prevent her demise.

In her harrowing part Eichenberger sensitively took Julia through the many human emotions anyone facing their sudden departure might feel.  A splendid performance worthy of a CATA nomination. Speck played Death/Jack as a kindly, loving, all embracing friend, not to be feared. Perhaps that’s the message Stroppel sends in this compassionate story. A Christmas Spirit with a difference. Do see.

What: The Christmas Spirit

Where and when: Milnerton Playhouse, Milnerton until 8 December 2018

Book: www.milnertonplayers.co.za or 082 267 1061

WS