The Long Christmas Dinner – Abbey Theatre (Peacock Stage) – Review
by Paddy McGovern
Until 31st Dec on the Peacock stage
Photos by Ros Kavanagh
If you like good theatre but panto is not for you, you could do worse than to treat yourself to a double helping of Christmas fare by making your way from Bewleys Café Theatre’s terrific lunchtime helping, Dinner in Mulberry Street to the Peacock Theatre’s The Long Christmas Dinner, Thornton Wilder’s classic long one-act which has just opened.
In less than one hour’s running time, Wilder’s Dinner dramatises the lives of four generations of a well-to-do industrialist family, ninety years of Christmas dinners. Directed by Sarah Jane Scaife and Raymond Keane, this first-rate production does full justice to Wilder’s economical writing, trusting his confidence in minimal props and setting, resisting any temptation to trick around with this masterful little gem of twentieth-century theatre. What emerges is a beautifully-paced performance from a well-balanced ensemble.
The first dinner sees Roderick and Lucia Bayard, installed in their new house, with Roderick’s mother as guest. Christmas by Christmas, the changes made by time and lifestyle – in their lives and those of later generations – become evident: Cousin Brandon’s drinking, Mother Bayard’s death, Roderick expanding his business and his family, son Charles and daughter, Genevieve, named for Mother Bayard. This naming of babies after grandparents highlights at once both the connection to family roots and how life moves on; all are processed through the mill of time. Key lines about time and life are repeated throughout successive generations; there is indeed nothing new under the sun.
As babies become adults producing another generation of children, the enclosed world of the Bayards cannot remain untouched by major outside events, such as war. The young complain of the dullness and boredom of small-town life. Their longing for adventure and excitement is reminiscent of similar characters from Chekov to Miller to Murphy and Friel. And like those writers’ characters, what ensues may not be what they had hoped for.
The arrival of a cousin, kindly, elderly spinster Ermengarde, seems a foreshadowing of where the family and the house itself are headed. The final scene is particularly affecting, the culmination of beautifully balanced performance from a tightly knit ensemble of Liam Bixby, Bryan Burroughs, Emmet Byrne, Rachael Dowling, Eoin Fullston, Fionnuala Gygax, Aisling Kearns, Fiona Lucia McGarry, Máire Ní Ghráinne, Rachel O’Byrne, Will O’Connell and Valerie O’Connor.
Aoife Kavanagh’s sound design and Sally Withnel’s set design add the final touches to a deeply satisfying evening’s theatre. It would be a shame to miss this memorable production at the Peacock, where it continues with two performances, at 6:30 and 8:30 daily, until December 31st. Covid protection measures (including checking photo id) are reassuringly enforced.