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Last Christmas

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

The painful litany of shop-soiled Christmas songs that usher in Matthew Bulgo's not entirely festive monologue speak volumes about what follows. Into the void steps Tom, a man on the verge of thirty wearing a hang-dog expression and a permanently misanthropic air. Over the next sixty minutes, Tom rewinds from hungover awkwardness with his newly pregnant girlfriend Nat, to the sheer awfulness of the office party the night before. But, as he leaves Nat alone to travel home for Christmas, Tom goes further, to the loser mates he left behind, to his widowed mum, and most of all to his dead dad who he's slowly but surely starting to resemble.

As played by Sion Pritchard in Kate Wasserberg's seasonal revival for the Cardiff-based Dirty Protest company, Tom is an initially dislikeable young pretender, a commitment-phobic man-child scared to face up to his responsibilities, yet who also feels hard done by. Out of such a gently tragi-comic scenario comes a tender portrayal of one man's coming to terms with his lot in a vividly written piece of confessional fiction.

As the mask slips the closer Tom gets to home, a slow-burning awakening takes hold that is both a form of purging as much as growing up, and when he ends up dancing with his mum around his tiny Swansea living room, all of his burdens seem to fade away. This is one of many everyday delights in a piece that wrestles with the conflicting emotions of loss, growing up and true love as Tom eventually wakes up to his all too real present as much as the past. It is the future shaped by both, however, that matters most.

The Herald, December 15th 2016

ends

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