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21 round for Christmas at The Hope Theatre

It’s Christmas Day in the kitchen, and a solitary figure, Tracy (Clare Bloomer) is sorting everything out. This itself divides opinion – some will be inclined to think one or two of the twenty-one people she has round for Christmas in, um, 21 Round for Christmas, could lend a hand. (To be fair, one of them does ask if Tracy needs help, but is flatly refused: “Nooooo!”) Others, like yours truly, take the view that as the others are letting her get on with it, there’s less cause for trouble and strife, and with the freedom to do things in the order in which she chooses, she can more or less proceed at her own pace.

Clare Bloomer as Tracy in 21 Round For Christmas Production Shots at The Hope Theatre. Credit Cam Harle.
Clare Bloomer as Tracy in 21 Round For Christmas Production Shots at The Hope Theatre. Credit Cam Harle.

There’s plenty of coarse language, though frankly nothing one wouldn’t hear on public transport, or in a school playground. At face value, the narrative seems unfocused, flitting from topic to topic, like a stream of consciousness rather than a structured story. But beyond the rapid changes of subject – which include a séance, dating tactics and the various characteristics of the people indulging in conversation and charades in the front room – lies a life story that is as detailed as it is bittersweet.

Audience interaction (not, as ever, the same as audience participation) adds more hilarity to proceedings. All I will say on this point is this: sit in the front row at your own risk. A troublesome piece of set was dealt with very well, and I suspect that wasn’t the only instance of ad-libbing in this briskly paced production. Tension has been rising for some years between Tracy and her husband, and there’s a relative who is vegan, and therefore requires a separate dish cooked for them. But it’s not the dietary choices that bother Tracy, but rather the relative’s abrasive personality.

The show thrives on difficult people and challenging situations, and the monologue, laugh-out-loud funny as it is, is all the richer for it. It would, of course, be nice if ‘everyone’ did get along – but it would also make for a dull evening at the theatre. An unconventional (to say the least) of serving up Christmas dinner had me in stitches, though it would never be justified if Tracy had more civilised company.

Okay, so it’s the kind of story that plays to the gallery, and more than once I found myself wondering if certain details were being embellished. Tracy’s perspective on various matters is the only one available in the show, but it’s a perspective that isn’t, as far as her home life goes, heard often enough. Eventually, it almost feels like a privilege to hear her side of the story, a side that the twenty-one others in the next room aren’t hearing. That is not to say that all of the twenty-one off-stage characters are awful – indeed, from the affectionate manner Tracy adopts from time to time, one can be reasonably certain there are some good people in the bunch.

An ability to laugh in the face of life’s problems is an admirable skill, and a cathartic release occurs once Tracy has blasted her fury and frustration and cleared the air. Telling her story as she does directly to the audience, it’s easy to maintain interest in this emotional rollercoaster of a journey, and this show is just the tonic for anyone who has experienced what it is to be taken for granted (and those who haven’t will find much to laugh about too).

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Christmas time, mistletoe & wine, children singing Christian rhymes… out of tune and far too loudly for six in the f**ing morning! Join Tracy, a day-dreaming, outspoken, list-making, extroverted-introvert in the midst of cooking Christmas Dinner for her family – her extremely large family. A raucous festive romp with… a little bit of spice!

CAST
Clare Bloomer – Tracy Sullivan

Production Team
Writer – Matthew Ballantyne & Toby Hampton
Director – Toby Hampton
Producer – Kennedy Bloomer
Stage Manager – Summer Keeling
Set Designer – Sorcha Corcoran
Sound Designer – Oliver Ballantyne
PR – Arabella Neville-Rolfe

21 round for Christmas
30 Nov – 18 Dec 2021
https://www.thehopetheatre.com/

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