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It is Christmas Eve in London.

Ben Morrigan is in boyfriend David’s kitchen making Christmas crackers. The pair is invited to dinner at David’s childhood home, the stylish abode of theatre – and sometimes TV – star Charles Cunningham. For David, that should be the perfect occasion to introduce Ben to the family for the first time.

The couple set out on a car journey, and all is clearly not well. They bicker and argue, and something is preoccupying the dark mind of swarthy Ben, this young man who makes his living from making film/theatre props and constructing sets. The scene he has on his mind on this day is one of vengeance for wrongs inflicted a long time ago.

Charles Cunningham and his wife Lydia wait nervously for the arrival of the guests and are ensconced in their own squabbling. Lydia worries about the state of mind of her aging husband – he has begun to forget things and, when pushed on certain topics, it becomes evident that they have escaped him altogether. But how much of his past will he be allowed to evade?

The Christmas tree Charles gazes upon looks lopsided, as if it hasn’t been set up properly and will tumble down at any minute: this central metaphor becomes an apt appraisal for the life he has lived and the truths he will be made face, as apt a metaphor as that of the marshmallows he sometimes indulges in: things that are soft, sweet, delicate and effortlessly consumed, but are now back to haunt like spectres from Christmases past.

The scene is set for a fraught encounter as hunter and hunted face off on a dark winter night. Memories are summoned, or are practically wrenched back into play, many of which would perhaps be better off left locked away in a dusty old prop chest with the other Waiting for Godot accoutrements, the bowler hats, the stinging whip; and on a bare theatre stage an intense interrogation and crippling castigation is about to take place, which will frazzle nerves, break relationships and go as far as to upend the very notion of family.

Will anyone come out of it unscathed, or is it just that, as Ben’s favourite Christmas song has it, “the Christmas you get… you deserve”?

Cover image © Ichy Sriwongthai, with his gracious permission

About Colin O’Sullivan