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Thirty Christmases review at New Diorama, London – ‘funny and heartbreaking’

Rachel Parris, Jonny Donahoe and Paddy Gervers in Thirty Christmases at New Diorama, London. Photo: Josh Tomalin Rachel Parris, Jonny Donahoe and Paddy Gervers in Thirty Christmases at New Diorama, London. Photo: Josh Tomalin
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“Don’t be a prick at Christmas” is the jauntily sung take-home message of Thirty Christmases, Jonny Donahoe’s intimate, funny and heartbreaking confessional family drama.

The show, an earlier version of which premiered in Oxford last year, cuts a lot deeper than that might suggest. There’s a deceptively finely-tuned informality at work here that insinuates itself into your heart, as Donahoe and Rachel Parris play two siblings recounting their unconventional family history with an unpredictable single parent father and a mother who abandoned them. They are joined by Paddy Gervers, as the best friend they meet when they are taken into care.

This simple yet affecting tale of family and friendship is initially playful but becomes increasingly emotionally wrenching, as familiar family patterns play themselves out and deep hurts are exposed. At a time of year when families come together and past betrayals are often played out again, this is a healing show about the possibilities of making amends.

Donahoe, a past master at this confessional style of performance with the superb Paines Plough show Every Brilliant Thing, is a gregarious host and narrator, making the material feel authentic and personal. Parris also brings out the frustrations and vulnerabilities of the sibling and they have an intentionally tentative but touching rapport. Gervers, who co-wrote the songs with Donahoe, provides a musical foil to them and also contributes the narrative. Together they create a Christmas story with a heart and a real twist.

Working Christmas review at Old Fire Station, Oxford – ‘warm and disarming’

Verdict
Lovely, affecting seasonal show-with-songs about complicated families and making amends
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