The Holly and The Ivy, Buxton Opera House

Untitled-1There is something reassuringly quaint about the Christmas classic The Holly and the Ivy that makes it a charming evening’s entertainment.

The pace of the play set on Christmas Eve in 1947 is most definitely gentle and the characters themselves genteel, but at the same time the philosophical theme brings us simmering tensions, shocking revelations and plenty of humour.

The recently widowed Reverend Martin Gregory and his devoted daughter Jenny are hosting a family Christmas.

On the guest list at the Norfolk vicarage are two aged aunts, Lydia a widow and Bridget a spinster, Richard a distant cousin, the vicar’s own son Mick, on leave from the Army and his London-based journalist daughter Margaret.

As the play, written by Wynyard Browne and directed faithfully by Michael Lunney, opens we see Jenny, played by Rachel Waters, putting the finishing touches to her festive decorations on a beautifully detailed set.

There’s a Christmas tree; holly, ivy and mistletoe draped over the door frames; a roaring log fire and a view of a snow-covered church from the window.

With her is the man she loves David Patterson, played by Tom Roberts, who wants her to marry him and leave for South America where he is starting a prestigious new job.

She faces a dilemma as sees it her duty to stay at home and look after her father –unless she can persuade her sister to take on her role as carer. But Margaret, played by Sally Day, has a sad secret of her own.

The vicar, played by Stuart McGugan, has spent all his time caring for his parishioners and it seems he has failed to recognise the troubles of his own family.

Thanks to a drunken outburst by his son, played by Dean Smith, the preacher is confronted by the reality that his rigid adherence to The Bible has made him unapproachable by the very people he cares for most.

The stellar cast of eight may have dealt deftly with the drama as it examines the dour subjects of self-sacrifice, deceit, honesty, judgment and finally forgiveness, but it has to be said it was the comedy that stole the show.

The excellent Sally Sanders as Aunt Bridget and the accomplished Hildegard Neil as Aunt Lydia had their comedic timing spot on and George Telfer, who was standing in as Cousin Richard in the absence of Alan Leith, was masterful.

The play is being staged by the Middle Ground Theatre Company Ltd at Buxton Opera House until tomorrow, November 26. For tickets go to buxtonoperahouse.org.uk

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