Season's Greetings, Playhouse, Liverpool

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The Independent Culture

Yuletide fever has gripped the Bunker household, and anyone watching this revival of Alan Ayckbourn's 1980s anti-bourgeois farce Season's Greetings could be forgiven for cancelling Christmas immediately.

Here we have all the worst possible prejudices and misunderstandings that could emerge when a group of people is closeted up in seasonal suburban solitude. Class, money, cultural snobbery, male chauvinism, female prickliness, ageism, homophobia, sexual frustration and the desperate loneliness of long-time married couples provide potent material for Ayckbourn's wry slant on festive fallout.

It's not as though the blokes wilfully misunderstand their put-upon wives, or that the codgers who land on their relatives are deliberately difficult, or that the women are really as wound-up as the coiled-spring toys under the tree. It's just that, in inflammatory circumstances, simmering resentments flare up. Judging from the running commentary going on near me, along with rueful laughs and loud guffaws, a lot of couples recognise this scenario. Not, perhaps, the whole situation, however, since, though some Christmases finish in tears, few end in the lethal situation engineered by the obnoxious ex-security guard, Uncle Harvey (Colin Prockter).

Samantha Giles plays the pretentious hostess, Belinda, tinselling up the tree while playing happy families with a steely determination. Josie Walker attracts sympathy as the weary, pregnant Pattie, making allowances for her figgy pudding of a husband.

Placid Bernard, played by Ian Bartholomew, is, unusually, a doctor of little self-esteem, stuck in a childless rut with his sickly wife. His interminable puppet show is meant to entertain all the children whom we neither hear nor see. But when he's finally goaded into a display of temper, this quiet man speaks out, giving a blistering character reduction. As his tipsy wife, Angela Clerkin is at her most ghastly and also most funny pursuing the hapless guest, a writer, invited to join this family celebration.

Relationships disintegrate, resentments stew and drink-induced bickering turn nasty. Nikolai Foster's production conveys the awfulness of it all, the mixture of angst and humour, although the moments of high farce seem too predictable, while the ending - like a cracker that doesn't definitively snap open - fizzles out lamely.

To 21 January (0151-709 4776)

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