Theatre Review: ‘Christmas Eve Can Kill You’ – Lyric Theatre – 26/11/15

“Y’see Christmas Eve, it’s like instead of watching a soap where people are acting out real life, this is real life acting out a soap, y’know what I mean?” this idea of the dramatism concerned with Christmas Eve is one which fuels the premise of “Christmas Eve Can Kill You.”

Written by Marie Jones and directed by Dan Gordon, “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” transports its audience back to Belfast 1992 on Christmas Eve. It follows Belfast cabbie man Mackers (played by Tim Loane), as he taxis an array of comical and intriguing characters around the city for their various festive and some… not-so-festive activities.

A sparse stage set up consisting of a wire taxi car is at the centre of the stage throughout the entire performance with rapidly changing traffic lights in the background as a constant reminder of the city going by. Opening with various passer-bys walking rapidly by one another armed with gifts and Christmas radio adverts playing as a maddeningly familiar backdrop, the manic hustle and bustle of Belfast City Centre shoppers on Christmas Eve is reflected.

If you’ve ever wondered about the characters that a cabbie must encounter during a shift and the strange glimpses into people’s lives that come with the job then “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” will answer some of these curiosities. “I tell ya here and now, if this taxi could write a book” are Mackers opening words that confirm the not-so-average people that have sat down in his taxi. With many more to come in the duration of the play, “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” shows that what happens behind closed doors comes to life in his taxi and how the lives of people around us seem perfect simply on the surface and through the image they create.

From the very onset the play is filled with Northern Irish colloquialism that ensures it has a sense of locality and familiarity unique to Northern Ireland. Rhyming off areas and streets of Belfast that would be familiar to so many in the audience, the play holds a certain nostalgia.

Mackers’ first customer of the evening comes in the form of a turkey armed husband (played by Dan Gordon) hell bent on getting his fill of festive cheer in the pub rather than at home with his wife. Throughout the play the common perceptions and stereotypes of Christmas are challenged with the idea of Christmas as family orientated having gone awry already.

Indeed, Mackers collects three bickering daughters (played by Tara Lynne O’Neil, Katie Tumelty and Louise Parker) who are going to meet their mother (played by Julia Dearden) at the pub. Not enthused about having to do so and arguing the entire journey about it, family coming together at Christmas is familiarly conveyed as never going as smoothly as it should.

With snippets of old familiar Christmas songs audible as Mackers drops off his customers at various locations, the fact that he is apart from these festivities is underlined. Exclaiming that “Christmas is abnormal” we see that through trying to distance himself from the festivities and simply being an onlooker unlocks interesting perceptions about “the most wonderful time of the year” …supposedly.

Collecting a BBC actor from Aldergrove provides a particular comical highlight of the play. Daniel De Monte (also played by Dan Gordon) is a pompous character whose posh English accent sounds so at odds with the Belfast brogues which have thus far pervaded the play. Asking to be dropped at the “Or-meyo Guest House” on the “Or-meyo road” has everyone in the audience in stitches. This continues when he tells Mackers how he is starring in a Northern Irish drama set in “Mega-Berry prison.”

The disparity between these two characters comes to a particular peak whenever De Monte asks Mackers to drive past the Divis flats so he “can see how the loyalists really live.” This type of localised, Belfast humour is a particular hit with the audience. Practising his lines in the back of the taxi, De Monte’s actions for this Northern Irish drama are all comically violent and contrast sharply with his refinery. As he gets out of the taxi Mackers tells him that the Sandy Row is just around the corner if he wants “to see how the Republicans live.”

Towards the end of the play, Mackers laments that all he wanted was “to stand on the outside, be an onlooker” yet throughout the play he consistently becomes involved with the drama of ordinary people’s lives despite his own wishes. From bringing someone who was attacked to the hospital, collecting an elderly woman who wants him to pretend he’s her son and a young girl who’s having an affair with a married man, the complicated nature of seemingly ordinary people stands out starkly. Mackers job as a cabbie becomes transmuted into the role of a son, a therapist and a counsellor. Above all “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” shows how complicated people can be, even beneath all the humour that the play excels with.

The cast’s ability to seamlessly jump from one character to another in a play that is so jam packed with unique and comic characters really stands out in the duration of the evening. So adept at adapting to different character’s roles throughout the night, you would be forgiven for not immediately recognising the actor or actress from a previous scene. Indeed, this skill at performing such a diverse range of characters and subplots is a testament to the talent of the cast.

“It’s just another scene in life’s great soap” Mackers says in one of his monologues. Through witnessing the various comical domestic disputes taking place in Mackers’ taxi the audience are confronted by what we’ve always suspected about Christmas: it isn’t all it’s hyped up to be and it never plays out the way anyone wants it to. Yet this still won’t stop anyone from having a certain lopsided fondness for the holiday. “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” comes to the conclusion that perhaps the only way to get through the various, inevitable Christmas related calamities and domestics is to laugh them off, because a perfect Christmas is simply an illusion limited to adverts.

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