West Wittering Players launch into Alan Ayckbourn’s Seasons Greetings for their autumn production.
Director Dennis Harrison is promising festive fun with all the usual festive tensions bubbling away.
“The action centres around a typical family Christmas with all the convivial, friendly, family fun …. what could possibly go wrong? But it does give us a very funny play with, I suspect, some family characters the audience might recognise.
“It’s a play I have been playing around with for a long time, wondering whether or not we could do it. It is not an easy one to do on a small stage. It requires two rooms and the hall and the stairs… and that really isn’t easy if you haven’t got much room. But I think we have managed to get around it. The doorways stop about two foot up the door frames, and we have got skirting boards to delineate the extent of the rooms.
“The set has been a great challenge for our set builders, cast and crew. Getting a cast of nine to move in and out of a sitting room, a dining room and hall and stairs without walking through a wall has been a rehearsal nightmare! But it’s been fun to do!
“It is such an iconic play in terms of the relationships of the family. You have got four couples that are at various stages in their marriages coming together at Christmas and reacting in the ways that you do at Christmas, trying to make the whole thing a friendly, happy, festive occasion but tripping up over domestic issues.”
The challenge for the director is to establish those relationships between the couples and also between the couples and the family as a whole: “But the characters are very well drawn. Ayckbourn is extremely good at that. But you do have to be careful with the casting. It is also important in amateur theatre, especially with West Wittering, that you take into account the availability of the cast and the age profile of the people that you have got that you can use. But I think we have managed to get it right.
“The subject is this coming together at Christmas, and everybody is trying their best to create the right sort of family atmosphere, but there are always problems. People are determined to make it a happy time, but they do tend to trip up over the domestic issues. The relationships get slightly diverted, and that’s what creates the comedy. Ayckbourn takes it all up to big climaxes at various times over various things and then he takes it back down again… but then he brings it up to another climax again.
“One of the big challenges is that the text that is going on in one room is often almost interspersed with the text that is going on in the other room, and so you get the two conversations at once. But it is coming together nicely.
“I am directing again but have succumbed to the temptation of casting myself in the role of a grumpy old uncle. We have set it on the south coast in terms of where it is – except I have taken Uncle Harvey and made him northern. I think the humour in this particular character feels very northern humour. I think a northern accent gives the words a certain edge!
“I do enjoy directing, and I have particularly enjoyed directing this one, but I do like to be on the stage, and I do feel let down in production week if I am not actually on the stage. Plus there was no one else to play Uncle Harvey!”
As for directing himself, Dennis is happy that he has worked out the character: “So I don’t have to direct myself in that sense, but when I am on the stage, I have got one of the other cast members who is not on stage all the time to just keep an eye on where I am and on the movement, an eye on the overall production.”
The play runs from Wednesday, November 20 to Saturday, November 23 at The West Wittering Memorial Hall at 7.30pm. Tickets are £8 and £7.50 and will be on sale at Saya’s News, Rookwood Road and on 01243 513110.