CHRISTMAS FEAR: The cast rehearse for the Criterion's upcoming production of  Festive Spirit .
CHRISTMAS FEAR: The cast rehearse for the Criterion's upcoming production of Festive Spirit .

Criterion putting the crackers back into Christmas

THE Criterion Theatre's production of Festive Spirit is a celebration of dysfunctional families everywhere, their dynamics and the trials and tribulations of celebrating Christmas. Thank goodness it only comes around once a year, right?

Festive Spirit is written by award winning Newcastle playwright Sally Davies and has only been performed by one other theatre company since being penned. Directed by Mareia Cowper and played by a cast of Criterion and Pelican alumni, Festive Spirit delves into the lives and lounge room of a typical Aussie family on Christmas Day.

Festive Spirit is Sally Davies' first full-length play after having 15 short plays staged in more than 20 festivals worldwide. She wrote her inaugural play, The Wanted Man, for the first Newcastle Short+Sweet Festival in 2010, with subsequent work, Stalemate, winning a People's Choice award at the 2014 Sydney Short+Sweet event.

The turkey's stuffed, the presents are wrapped, the extended family are descending like a swarm of locusts on Bob (James Patterson) and Jenny's (Linda Maher) home for dinner with the same family members and their companions coming to their house every year.

Jenny spends her time in the kitchen, in between trying to juggle family harmony.

Bob spars with sister-in-law Debborah (Karla Hubbard) who readily consumes the red wine and as a last resort the cooking sherry whilst offending people with her opinions. Tom (Joe Endean), who is Jenny's brother and Debborah's husband, hides in the garage, tinkering with a car.

Jenny and Bob's eldest daughter, Melissa (Rachel Schuhmacher), has trouble attracting the right sort of men, while her younger sister Belinda (Eva Miller), has brought her partner of 12 months, Jeremy (Lachlan Scott), who is trying to hide his surprise gift for Belinda.

The last regular party member, Joyce (Kim McBeath), the mother of Jenny and Tom, our Grandma has wax in her ears and misunderstands what others are saying and may be trying to find a husband.

The celebrants also get visits from next-door neighbours, Frank (Ken Mackenzie) and Maud (Rhonny Mackenzie), whose personalities aren't what anyone should have to endure at Christmas.

A fireman also turns up, Andy (Bill North) but the guests aren't sure if he is there to put fires out or start one.

Director Mariea Cowper said playwright Sally Davies will be visiting the Criterion Theatre on the second weekend of Festive Spirit to see the production.

"We are very pleased and honoured to have Sally come here. She is sort of a local girl from Newcastle and she is very excited to have her play being performed for the second time in Australia."

The director said she first came across the play in 2016 and "was hooked".

"It took me almost a month to track her down but eventually I did. We had originally scheduled the play for 2018 but had to postpone so we've waited a year for this to become a reality."

Festive Spirit is filled with laughs as the characters' patience and sanity is tested to the limit and they try to muster the fortitude to survive their annual Familial Endurance Test with minimal casualties.

Funny, clever and always relatable, this is one funny show not to be missed.

The show runs from Thursday, July 18 (preview night); Friday, July 19 (opening night); Saturday, July 20 at 7.30pm. Matinee on Sunday, July 21 at 2pm. The following weekend Friday, July 26 and Saturday, July 27 at 7.30pm. Final matinee on Sunday, July 28 at 2pm. Tickets are available online at Sticky Tickets or at Buckley's Music Group Grafton. Follow the Criterion Theatre Grafton on Facebook for current show information and upcoming auditions.



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