One of the brilliantly odd things about TV festive specials is they’re usually filmed in the middle of summer. Cameras avoid trees in full leaf whilst actors wear scarves in 30-degree heat.
Theatre is slightly different, though in my experience, I’ve often found myself planning Christmas shows at the height of summer whilst wearing shorts and sipping iced water. So it was this year, as we slowly reopened the Town Hall – and indeed, the country – that I found myself persuading first Gavin Osborn and then Florence Espeut-Nickless to come to Trowbridge to make an original show this winter.
Their remit was seemingly simple. Create a play that was a bit magical, a bit bleak and totally hopeful. Oh, and it should be inspired by a week of conversations with residents in Trowbridge. No guarantee it’ll go ahead, just a week to play around with some ideas.
On a baking hot week at the end of August, Gavin and Flo spoke with residents across the town. They met people in the park and at the Seymour hub, in cafes and at the soft play. What gradually emerged were the traditions each person had at Christmas, how these were unique to each person or family, and how bittersweet many people’s experiences of Christmas are.
This certainly echoes my own. Fifteen years ago, my brother was killed in a motorbike accident on Christmas Eve. It was shocking. It changed my relationship to Christmas. Gradually, as I became more comfortable talking – and thinking – about my brother’s death, others shared similar stories of Christmases past. And it occurred to me that, statistically, to get to your 30s and not have had something awful happen around Christmas is incredibly rare.
So, how to make a show that encompasses this loss but isn’t unremittingly bleak? That is both truthful and optimistic?
I thought this would be rare but then I started to reflect on the films we’re showing at the Town Hall this week. Joyeux Noel, a football match in the middle of the First World War. It’s A Wonderful Life, perhaps the epitome of bitter/sweet. Even Muppet’s Christmas Carol has some pretty dark source material.
In fact, it’s hard to think of a Christmas story that doesn’t have darkness near its heart. The Snowman is a right-of-passage in childhood heartbreak. Love Actually has Emma Thompson’s tears. Perhaps this is rooted in the oldest of Christmas stories, the nativity. A forced journey, no room in the inn and a pregnant woman in a stable. But, as John has it, “the light shines in the darkness”.
It’s that type of show that Flo and Gavin have been making, that begun back in sunny August and is being polished in the wintry cold of December. It’s a show rooted in Trowbridge, with characters so carefully created you feel you must have met them somewhere before. It’s fiction but grounded in truth. Light in the dark. Hope.
Oh, and it’s funny. Really funny. The Director Jenny Davies has brilliantly crafted the story, spanning twenty-seven years, and led a cracking design team that make the show look and sound beautiful.
It’s not been easy – in fact, it’s testament to the incredible creative team that they’ve taken the ridiculous challenge of creating an original Christmas show and, in a few short weeks, made something so wonderful.
In fact, looking back to July, when we stretched our imaginations to contemplate bare winter trees and icy streets, I’m pleased to say that this play exceeds even the wildest of our summer dreams. Which, truth be told, is something of a miracle.
– David Lockwood, Director
(Preview) Friday 17th December – 7pm
(Preview) Saturday 18th December – 7pm
Monday 20th December – 7pm
Tuesday 21st December – 7pm
Wednesday 22nd December – 7pm
Thursday 23rd December – 7pm
Friday 24th December – 2pm
Sunday 26th December – 2pm
Monday 27th December – 7pm
Tuesday 28th December – 7pm
Wednesday 29th December – 7pm
Thursday 30th December – 7pm