While most Christmas shows are a glut of glitzy excess, Alphabetti Theatre’s Present (written and directed by artistic director Ali Pritchard) looks at those for whom the holidays are less than happy.
Dave (Malcolm Shields) is a homeless alcoholic whose estranged daughter invites him to meet the grandson he has never seen. Excited but anxious, Dave wants to buy a gift for the boy but must first negotiate both the perils of the streets and his own inner demons.
Shields’ nuanced performance powerfully captures the essence of a man who has fallen far, but never loses sight of the complex humanity behind society’s easy labels. A well-chosen live soundtrack by three talented musicians (Wilf Stone, Martha Wheatley and Diji Solanke) is skilfully deployed, and the piece is well-served by Rosie Bristow’s smart set.
While avoiding pat resolutions, Pritchard’s light touch and eye for the absurd stop things descending into bleakness. He manages to imbue the production with plenty of humour without minimising the plight of its protagonist, and it’s peppered with delightful touches. A scene where Dave tries to sidestep a can of gin and tonic – that one small object imbued with years of pain, loss and temptation – is genuinely heart-rending in its beauty.
It’s not always subtle – the denouement in particular feels a little heavy handed – but then, what Christmas stories are? And if our most beloved secular seasonal story is that of a rich man getting unasked-for redemption, surely we can root for a desperate poor man, given a glimmer of hope?