Actor Stephen Smith is fast becoming a Steven Berkoff specialist. The Recs loved his Dog / Actor double bill which he took to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Harry’s Christmas, which is having a seasonal run at the King’s Head Theatre, is an altogether different and darker proposition.
Harry is nearly 40 and single and we find him four days from Christmas, counting the string of six Christmas cards he has received, depending on that “line in your lounge to prove you are loved”. Already dreading the approaching “festive” season alone again, he suggests that Christmas tells you your status in the world.
This single-hander sees Harry trying to find some company or indeed any connection with people as Christmas Day fast approaches. Attempts to reach former loves and then distant friends, for any sort of human communion, fail. Worse he suffers the indignity of being put on video call to the 3 year-old-child at a children’s party while trying to reach a woman he used to know. She’s too busy to come to the phone.
Both the remarkable quality and the problematic issue with Harry’s Christmas is its unflinching look at the eviscerating effect of loneliness. With two days to go, Harry admits that he doesn’t normally care and he can cope. On Christmas Day itself, he attempts to convince himself of the lie that it’s “only a day like any other day”. In reality, we feel his sense of feeling lonely, unliked, uninteresting and, foregrounding the direction of travel, “unbeing”.
Stephen Smith is superb in charting every piece-by-piece erosion of Harry and his sense of worth. It’s a nuanced and painful portrayal of isolation at supposedly the most wonderful time of the year. As we go through the four days approaching Christmas Day, Smith’s Harry subtly lowers the character’s energy. It’s a perfect illustration that Harry’s hopes, that someone, anyone might call round or phone him, are fading.
A compelling but brutal depiction of the darker side to Christmas – ★★★★ four stars