It’s Christmas Eve 1947, towards teatime with a log fire burning in the grate, snow in the sky and Holly & Ivy decorating the walls. The scene is set for the latest play from the Middle Ground Theatre Company and this one is a wonderful festive tale of family, religion, passion, obligation and revelation.
The story centres around a village parson (played by Stuart McGugan) and his family as they meet for their customary Christmas get together. The Reverend’s youngest daughter, Jenny, is busy preparing the house while at the same time trying to curtail her excitement of being betrothed to a young Scottish engineer David; a marriage which will take her away from the family home and off to South America where David will work for the next 5 years. Jenny, despite being excited and in love, is still torn as, following her mother’s death, it is she who looks after her father.
The story unfolds around the secrets of Jenny’s older sister Margaret (played by the completely glamorous Corrinne Wicks) and her reasons (both philosophical and spiritual) for feeling unable to come home and take over caring for her father. Throughout the play the Reverend battles with his own personal ‘demons’, doubting his effectiveness, questioning whether religion still has a place in village life yet refusing to concede that it may be time to retire. It is not until two very frank & heartfelt discussions, the first with his soldier son Mick and then Margaret, that he finds the reasons he has been searching for. Alongside this there are two aunts (themselves being as different as Holly & Ivy) who spice up proceedings with their own take on life & love.
Star of the show is undoubtedly Jenny played by Julia Mallam, who is totally captivating as the doting daughter who knows her destiny but is happy to sacrifice it all to protect her father. Julia is a charming, beautiful and talented actress who owned every scene she starred in and provided the thread which runs through the whole production. I would happily buy tickets for every night just to watch her performance.
The Holly and The Ivy is a great Christmas play with a real feeling of the post war years coupled with the sense of social & moral change that prevailed through the general questioning of “what is life all about?”. I can see this becoming a perennial favourite for the festive season.
The Holly & The Ivy is on at Darlington Civic until Saturday 26th November.