‘Round robin’ letters – tomes traditionally sent with Christmas cards to all and sundry may seem like an anachronism to our e-mail/digital culture, but certainly in the 20th century it was a phenomenon. Simon Hoggart’s book, The, Cat That Could Open The Fridge, which contains a collection of many of these letters has been adapted and directed by Scott Le Crass as an integral part of a play.
A Curmudgeon’s Guide To Christmas Round Robin Letters revolves around a couple, played by actors using their real first names. ‘Kate’ (Kate Russell-Smith) and ‘Claire’ (Claire Lacey) take it in turns to read such letters at their ‘home’ – the audience being the ‘house guests’ for the evening. Many of the letters are very ‘upper/middle-class’ in tone – waxing lyrical about the achievements of children (some pre-pubescent) in academic subjects and extra-curricular activities. The latter half of the show veers into a very different direction, as the letters read out swing to the other extreme. One may be forgiven for thinking that hearing about the not-so-good things in people’s lives would be a refreshing change, but theory and reality are very different things…
The informal atmosphere of the show plays a big part in its success, with ‘Claire’ and ‘Kate’ interacting with the audience and the nominal Christmas activities like pulling crackers and wearing paper hats are encouraged.
With regards to the reading of the letters, subtlety is key. If one watches the actors closely, their inflection is two-fold: a way of highlighting and satirising the people who use round robin letters as a way for one-upmanship and secondly, a way to indirectly comment on the characters themselves. As a same-sex couple, ‘Kate’ and ‘Claire’ don’t telegraph their relationship overtly or repeatedly. However, the plethora of mail they receive regarding children – something they won’t have outside of adoption or surrogacy – is a sore point for one of them, while family news of a different kind proves to be devastating.
It’s always been an ‘open secret’ that the ‘perfect family Christmas’ doesn’t exist and that in a post-letter society, writing about ‘picture-perfect’ lives has been superseded by the advent of social media (especially with the posting of children on Facebook!). As for the characters of ‘Claire’ and ‘Kate’, their ‘otherness’ keeps them at arm’s length from the superficial values of the epistle writers, which is no bad thing, but it doesn’t inoculate them from the harsher side of life…
© Michael Davis 2017
A Curmudgeon’s Guide To Christmas Round Robin Letters runs at the Hope Theatre until 23rd December.