T HE Dickensian depiction of a magical Christmas with firesides, feasts and family harmony has lodged itself permanently in the British imagination. But in his play Season's Greetings, Alan Ayckbourne debunks the whole myth and shows it for what it really is in the late 20th century: a farce.
The Phnom Penh Players gave a spirited showing of the amusing play, performing at the Royal Phnom Penh Hotel to an audience relaxing after a good dinner.
Ayckbourne's play wittily depicts Britain's suburban middle class. Forced reluctantly together under one roof to celebrate Christmas, the British family resorts to the quality that has long characterized the nation, namely insularity.
Thus, as the play opens in the home of Neville and Belinda Bunker (whose very name conjures up a place where people are trapped), Harvey Bunker is firmly ensconced in front of the television, determined to ignore everyone. Oblivious to dramas unfolding in the same room, he excitedly calls out "Look, it's the avalanche scene everyone," barely taking his eyes away from the screen.
Neville is like an overgrown schoolboy, engrossed in his hobby of constructing a model car. When he's finished, he fixes and repairs anything else he can lay his hands on to elude Belinda, his nagging wife. She is decorating the Christmas tree, determined to enforce the jollity of the season.
Bernard drags all the paraphernalia for his puppet theater into the living room for a performance which everyone is dreading. Offstage, his wife Phyllis' activities in the kitchen are spiraling into hysteria. Rachel, intense and pregnant, communicates with her husband Eddie only via a third party.
Into this discord comes Clive, a writer. As an artist and an observer, he is an outsider. He is immediately trapped into dressing up as Santa Claus on Christmas day.
Clive becomes the catalyst for everyone's frustrations. "He's mad," Bernard confides to him, pointing to Harvey. "Do steer clear of him, he's completely mad. He's almost certifiable really."
Clive is also the focus for Belinda's sexual frustrations. "Normally I'm a much more interesting person," she cries from the top of the ladder, waving a Christmas decoration. Clive responds to her advances with bumbling awkwardness and the first act ends with the pair caught inflagrante delicto on the living room floor.
Directed by Barry Rogers, the Phnom Penh Players were in fine form. George Taylor was particularly amusing as Harvey.
Fred Longman was the epitome of frustration as Bernard, his comic acting sometimes reminiscent of Tony Hancock, one of the greatest comedians Britain ever had.
Nick Hughes's portrayed Neville, more interested in his model cars than the infidelity of his wife, with gusto.
Sharon Kevin played Belinda with the right amount of self control which makes her sudden abandonment of inhibitions so much more amusing. Craig Martin was amusing as Clive, Diana Porter played Phylllis, Claire Davis was Pattie, Nigel Venning portrayed Eddie and Trudianna Jacobsen, Rachel.
The Phnom Penh Players was started by Vicki Rogers in June 1992, They have performed six plays, including The Real Inspector Hound, two Noel Coward plays and Chekhov. Their last production, Table Manners, went to Saigon for two nights.
Undeterred by the lack of a proper stage, limited free time and a changing company of actors, the group are real troopers. Asked why they chose Season's Greeting, Nick Hughes answered: "It's hard to find texts here in Cambodia. Basically, somebody had a copy of the play."