For many people, Christmas is a day of partying. For others, it is just like any other day of the year. For Harry in the revival of Steven Berkoff’s 1985 solo play Harry’s Christmas, it is a time for torturing himself by taking stock of his life and relationships and confronting his intense loneliness.
Alone on stage, Harry greets us jovially in a jaunty green festive jumper, sipping a can of cider, next to a tree filled with decorations, with strings of brilliant fairy lights above. But, as the days count down to Christmas Day itself, Harry shifts from a ostensibly light-hearted meditation on greetings cards towards bitterness, rage and self-loathing. As he recalls ex-girlfriends and contemplates his lack of meaningful friendships, he goes from sipping cider to downing bottles of wine and rum as his mood turns darker.
Berkoff has created a complex character who, in Stephen Smith’s measured performance, wins us over initially with his likeable charm but – as anyone familiar with the playwright’s work might predict – Harry gradually reveals his tendency for misanthropic, and occasionally misogynistic, anger. He argues with himself, represented by a disembodied therapist-like voice which at times offers a positive counterpoint but also criticises and accuses – perfectly woven into the show through Julian Starr’s sound design. Harry seeks to dress up his existential angst with religious imagery and allusions to Christian guilt but it comes across merely as vain, meaningless and self-aggrandising
Despite touches of dark humour, Harry’s Christmas is a bleak seasonal offering. Directed by Scott Le Crass, the production keeps us fully engaged in the character’s disintegration, pulling no punches in its portrait of loneliness and self-isolation. Much of Harry’s plight will be recognisable to many who have spent Christmas alone, and the production promotes and supports CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, a charity leading a movement against suicide. Harry’s Christmas unapologetically provides no easy answers but is certainly a pitch-dark antidote to pantos and seasonal song. It is even running on Christmas Eve!
Harry’s Christmas runs at King’s Head Theatre to 24 December 2022. Tickets on sale at kingsheadtheatre.com.