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Harry’s Christmas at the King’s Head Theatre

Not everyone has a Happy Christmas. For some, it’s a season of joy packed to the brim with sparkles, endless Christmas parties and celebrations, mistletoe, wine, and lots of merry spirit! For others, it can seem the loneliest time of the year, a time to reflect on the fact that they’re alone.

Harry's Christmas. Photo by Bonnie Britain.
Harry’s Christmas. Photo by Bonnie Britain.

Harry’s Christmas, a play written by Steven Berkoff back in the 1980s, is currently running at the King’s Head Theatre. The piece explores the loneliness, isolation, and pain that some people experience to a very traumatic ending. Spoilers are ahead, due to potential triggers.

The piece isn’t easy to watch, it’s a dark comedy that gets darker and darker until the ultimate darkness takes over, it deals with sensitive issues including suicide – this may trigger audience members. For me, the show was hard to experience, I cried like a baby through the final scene and needed to leave and spend time in my thoughts alone after the show.

I cannot stress enough how much I applaud the team for putting on this – anti-Christmas production. This show is one that needs to be seen and hopefully, one that will spark debate as well as raising awareness for CALM – Campaign Against Living Miserably, the charity that leads a movement against suicide.

Now, if you’re still reading, and thinking about going to the show, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a one-man production, running at approximately 70 minutes, it takes place in a black box space with a thrust stage design (audience around 3 sides of the performance). Stephen Smith plays Harry.

As an audience we enter the space, there is Christmas music playing, our protagonist is adorned in Christmas Jumper, there are cards on display, the tree is lit up, we get a glimpse of Harry’s flat – books by Pulman and Camus are scattered around. This is a 40-year-old man getting ready for Christmas and he looks happy. He is crafting a star for his tree. What we experience over the next hour or so is a man coming undone to the point of no return.

Smith delivers an absolutely amazing performance as Harry. His tone is perfect as he portrays Harry spiralling out of control and falling down the rabbit hole of booze, pills, self-loath, loneliness, shame and finally suicide. Smith is compelling to watch, I could not take my eyes off him – even when he left the stage, I found myself watching the stage door waiting for his return.

The final scene, ‘Harry’s Goodbye’ is one of the most traumatic on-stage experiences I’ve had in my 45 years, and I’ve experienced a lot of theatre. The way this scene unfolds will be with me forever. The direction by Scott le Crass and the performance by Stephen Smith is real, raw, emotional, and worthy of an Olivier Award, in my opinion, the final sound effect before the show ends broke me. I left the theatre a different person than the one who came to the show.

Everything about this production just worked for me, the staging, the direction, the sound, lighting, and the performance. It touched my soul and has opened my eyes to an alternative Christmas, one exasperated by lockdown and loneliness.

If you want to experience a deep, meaning full Christmas show different to the classic British pantomime or much-celebrated West End musical try Harry’s Christmas, just be warned, it’s not an easy watch and you will leave thinking about your friends and family members who will be alone this Christmas.

5 Star Rating

Review by Faye Stockley

Harry sits alone in his London flat, counting his cards, waiting for anyone to call him; perhaps for an old friend to knock on the door, or for an old lover to appear or just for someone to have a drink with. Waiting for anyone, really. Anyone.

As the dreaded Christmas Day nears his sense of isolation deepens & he falls further into the trough of despair.

This portrait of loneliness and isolation confronts the huge, often unspoken issues that affect many people for whom the end of December, rather than being a festive season, is a time when emotional pressures are at their highest.

Writer | Steven Berkoff
Performer | Stephen Smith
Director | Scott Le Crass
Sound Designer & Composer | Julian Starr

6 – 24 December 2022
King’s Head Theatre
Duration | Approximately 60 minutes without an interval.
Age Guidance | +16.
Content Warning | Please note this play contains strong language & themes of mental health, including depression & suicide.

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  • Faye Stockley

    Faye read Theatre & Performance at The University of Warwick; she went on to work as a stage manager in London and Edinburgh. She had a year's stint on-board the MV Island Escape as a Social Host and Compere and now works full time as a Recruitment Manager for the broadcast, entertainment and media sectors.

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