Nine Lessons and Carols review, Almeida Theatre: Mythical, moving and full of sincerity

Chris Bush and Rebecca Frecknall’s devised production offers snapshots of heartache and alienation cut through with songs that pierce like firelight through darkness

Ava Wong Davies
Thursday 10 December 2020 12:26
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If you’re looking for a Christmas show without any garish festivity, Nine Lessons and Carols: Stories for a Long Winter may be just the ticket. Chris Bush and Rebecca Frecknall’s devised production, which began development in late October, has real homespun, rustic spirit. “This is not a Corona play,” reads the blurb on the Almeida website, and true to its word, Bush’s text never utters either the dreaded C-word or P-word. 

It is, though, steeped in the isolation felt by so many this year – snapshots of heartache and alienation cut through with songs that pierce like firelight through darkness. It is both mythical and mortal – stories about thorns of loneliness caught in every person’s back co-exist with banana bread recipes. "I have bought up shares in loneliness,” Katie Brayben’s character states at the start. “Some of us have always been alone.”

And so, there are no carols in Nine Lessons and Carols, nor are there any discernibly didactic lessons to be learnt (“That’s the first lie,” Almeida stalwart Annie Firbank murmurs in a voiceover). Instead, self-conscious tweeness (an amusingly grating children’s choir soundtracks scene transitions) rubs up against pricklier ideas. Tom Scutt’s design invokes the feel of a candlelit chapel, shorn up at the sides with piles of firewood, a raised grey slab in the middle of the theatre swept bare, ready for six lost souls to expose their hearts on. 

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