December 21, 2015
What is more Christmassy than popping along to see a Christmas show with your friends and family? Absolutely nothing, that’s what. But whilst many others will no doubt be taking in the joys of A Christmas Carol with Jim Broadbent, Elf the Musical at the Dominion Theatre or even one of the many Christmas Pantomimes being performed in the London suburbs, we headed along to a joyous new play at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, where a small group of twentysomethings were busying themselves selling Christmas trees throughout the month of December.
Pine is a festive comedy from Jacqui Honess-Martin, a literary associate at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Set entirely within a car park temporarily converted into an area to sell posh Christmas trees, the play delves into the current economic climate and lack of jobs for recent graduates, whilst also taking time to explore ambition and the idea of a career in modern times and the possibility that the world doesn’t owe us a living. As the play opens, area manager Sami (David Mumeni) chats to new site manager Gabby (Hannah Britland), an English graduate who is back yet again to sell Christmas trees for the fourth year running. Clearly frustrated with her situation, she can’t help but resent the unerring hope and happiness that exudes from the newcomers to the job – rich daddy’s girl Betty (Lucy May Barker) and Welsh rugby hopeful Joe (Matt Whitchurch). And all the while the wonderfully innocent and slightly autistic Taj (Ronak Patani) confidently bumbles around the site, doing his job without complaint.
Such a simple setup could lead to the possibility of a rather slight play, one where the characters become obvious caricatures. Thankfully, if anything, Pine is actually too long though you’ll find no complaint from us, such is the warmth of the dialogue and story. It’s a true Christmas tale even without the setting; relationships form, arguments and forgiveness occur within minutes of each other and you find yourself really wanting these people to be real, for you to be able to visit Festive Pines for your very own Christmas tree each year (though not for those prices mind, bit steep.)
The variety in the story is what enhances Pine and its likeability. As customers come and go (all seen by the characters but not by the audience), conversations break off in order to provide good customer service and even, spoiler alert, some bad customer service as well. What’s more, you won’t find a funnier play in all of London right now; one rant about a customer wearing a North Face jacket is tear-inducing and had the audience breaking down in their seats.
By the play’s end it’s hard not to root for the characters; sure, some begin as a tad unlikeable but by the conclusion, you’ll be rooting for them all. The acting, writing and direction (from Lisa Spirling) is brilliant from start to finish and even the singing between scenes, which we weren’t expecting, is perfectly arranged and choreographed. The set too is something to enjoy; the simplistic style of the area allows for the actors to make full use of the stage 'performing in the round', whilst the lighting and sound are beautifully done. Whether you call it a little Christmas miracle or festive treat, Pine is an absolute bargain for all the family to enjoy with tickets being a maximum of £12. So don't be a Christmas Grinch! Go, go, go before everyone hears about it and it becomes impossible to nab a seat!
Pine runs until January 16th 2016. To book a ticket, click here.
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By Henry Fosdike