Meagre decorations and an advent calendar barely soften the soullessness of the undertakers’ parlour where, in a trio of alcohol-fuelled encounters, middle-aged John is forced to confront the damage that his drinking and irresponsible behaviour have wrought over the years. Even now, between slugs of neat whisky, he refuses to admit that he’s still as drink dependent as he was, many years ago, when he cheated on his wife and abandoned his family.
His long estranged daughter (Pauline Hutton’s saddened but hopeful Mary) turns up, like Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Past, begging him to visit her terminally ill mother before she dies. In the two framing scenes, John delivers advice and near monologues to his temporary assistant Mark (Rory Keenan), an aimless young man who might just end up going the same way.
In this intimate space, Abbey Wright’s revival captures the gloomy limitations of a life which, but for the kindness of Mark’s mortician uncle, could easily have ended in the gutter and Gary Lydon’s John – rumpled, sweaty and scared of the dying – makes one hope that, for him, the final glimmer of possible redemption proves more than a seasonal illusion.
Trafalgar Studios (2), Whitehall, SW1A 2DY
Tube: Charing Cross
till 31st Dec
(£17.50 – £22)