The Yule Tide Tales

Theatre Upstairs presents 'The Yule Tide Tales'. Photo Ste Murray.

Theatre Upstairs presents 'The Yule Tide Tales'. Photo Ste Murray.

Theatre Upstairs presents 'The Yule Tide Tales'. Photo Ste Murray.

Theatre Upstairs presents 'The Yule Tide Tales'. Photo Ste Murray.

Theatre Upstairs presents 'The Yule Tide Tales'. Photo: Karl Shiels

Theatre Upstairs presents 'The Yule Tide Tales'. Photo: Karl Shiels

It may very well be that many people’s first experience of theatre comes at Christmas time, either from being shepherded to the panto or the National Concert Hall, or from featuring as a shepherd in the school nativity play. Something about this time of year requires dramatisation, it would seem. For grownups, though, offerings are thin on the ground; we can take our inner children — and outer ones — to the Gaiety or the Olympia, or perhaps dutifully Sing Along Messiah, but the lack of relatable narrative, from an adult perspective, is marked.

Theatre Upstairs’ The Yule Tide Tales seeks to fill that stocking, with old themes updated for our modern times. Each of the one act plays have taken a familiar tale, and re-imagined it — and The Nutcracker they ain’t. Or are they? In each play, both overtly and indirectly, there’s a definite sense that the male in society is suffering, and that this materialistic time of year hits them where they hurt the most: in their ability to provide.

It’s certainly the case for James (Jim Roche) in The Gift of the Magi. An unemployed architect who is overqualified for even the most basic restoration gig, he’s a slow-burning pyre of resentment and rage. Wife Della (Gene Rooney) is off working fulltime as midwife, and is a fount of positivity that, frankly, is only serving to fan the flames. When James’s lies start to unravel — yes he’s going to his class (he’s not); no, he didn’t hit the irritating ex-banker on the course (he did) — you’d think that the entire marriage would hit the skids, along with its head of the house.

It doesn’t, which may be a feel-good factor for the holidays, but it doesn’t make sense as a dramatic function. Writer/director Gemma Doorly has crafted a believable set of problems, and certainly, the truth dropping down during the couple’s massive argument was spot on. The gifts themselves, however, were almost an afterthought, and the emotional stakes never seem to match the intensity of the plot points; despite a heartwarming denouement, the text never felt dangerous enough.

Theatre UpstairsIn its way, The Little Match Girl has the same issues: we know the sad end to which Katie McCann’s inner-city girl is heading, and in a way, it takes some of the drama out of the proceedings. Forced out the door on Christmas Eve by her drug-dealing, drunk dad, the Girl narrates her journey into town on the Luas, looking for someone who’s looking to score. The text is descriptive in the way in which this form of monologue has familiarised us: each action is told, then shown — a mode that is increasing starting to feel old-fashioned.

The performance is at its best when, as directed by Karl Shiels, the Girl’s deterioration begins. It’s also quite fascinating to watch the disintegration of a type — tough inner-city bird who’d cut you as soon as look at you — into a scared kid, abandoned by both her mum and her gran through death, and a victim of her father, who would arguably see himself as a victim himself, stuck with a couple of kids and no wife… McCann’s performance reaches its frigid crescendo, and you almost want to reach for a few extra layers, it’s that intense and evocative.

The strongest piece is Gary Duggan’s Dublinisation of It’s a Wonderful Life, a very risky proposition that paid off. The sheer familiarity and belovedness of the Frank Capra film makes it almost monolithic in untouchbility, but Duggan’s hometown touch makes it entertaining and moving. Lawrence (Gerard Byrne) pitches up to the pub just before last call, catching Georgie (Stephen Kelly) mangling his phone. In the way of strangers at Christmas time, Lawrence has no compunction about striking up a conversation, a conversation that becomes more knowing and intrusive, at least from Georgie’s perspective, as the time goes on.

We know what happens, which somehow manages not to take away from the piece. There are moments when the stageplay can’t measure up to the film, particularly in the case in which Lawrence is impressing upon Georgie the importance of his sibling’s saved life (he saved her, she saved others, as in the scene in which George Bailey pulls his brother out of the icy lake). Kelly’s Georgie lacks a degree of desperation, and looks more bemused than anything, but Byrne’s bravura performance as the angel intent on getting his wings is more than sufficient to carry the show along to its triumphant conclusion.

Susan Conley

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Yule Tide Tales by Theatre Upstairs

4 - 20 December, 2013

Produced by Theatre Upstairs
In Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan’s

'The Gift of the Magi'
Written and directed by Gemma Doorly
With: Jim Roche and Gene Rooney

'It’s a Wonderful Life'
In a version by Gary Duggan
Directed by Gary Duggan
With: Gerard Byrne and Stephen Kelly

'The Little Match Girl'
Written and performed by Katie McCann
Directed by Karl Shiels