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Nine Lessons and Carols – Stories for a Long Winter, at Almeida Theatre

Episodic assortment of poignant and sometimes funny situations explores our need for contact with others

18 December, 2020 — By Howard Loxton

Nine Lessons at the Almeida. Photo: Helen Murray

THIS has nothing to do with the annual Christmas service in Cambridge. It is a play devised by director Rebecca Frecknall and the actors and scripted by Chris Bush.

Its themes are influenced by our lives over the past year as it explores our need for contact with others and the loneliness endured by some of us.

The theatre claims it is “not a corona play”. But it clearly is. An introduction by veteran actress Annie Firbank (recorded because at 87 she is isolating) admits the lie in the title and this is another one, although its episodic assortment of eclectic situations has wider relevance.

First, though, Nine Lessons and Carols offers a new myth about our beginnings: people lived, like some other animals, alone and in isolation until they found a thorn stuck between their shoulders which they needed someone else to pull out.

This is the most original idea of the evening but what follows is frequently poignant and sometimes funny.

Toheeb Jimoh plays a man delivering online orders, dim sum for Highgate dinners and sex toys to Herne Hill lesbians, as he argues with his partner, Naana Agyei-Ampadu, about joining a Black Lives Matter protest.

Katie Brayben provides a smug voice distinguishing her aloneness from other people’s loneliness.

There’s a father (Eliot Levey) who seems to be looking after his son (Luke Thalon) or is the son caring for father?

There’s an ad agency brainstorming about marketing Christmas, a couple breaking up, a man meticulously making banana cake but really mourning the wife no longer with him. Another finds a dog tied up in a park and takes him home, although this is no match made in heaven.

As the evening draws to a close there’s a story of tragic loss.

Frecknall’s direction maintains social distancing but there is a strong sense of ensemble and interaction among the six actors whose performances go some way to disguise the show’s contrivances.

Threaded through the evening are Maimuna Memon’s well-sung folksy tunes with her leading the company on guitar.

This will be available on demand, access via almeida.co.uk

UNTIL JANUARY 9
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