Review: 21 Round for Christmas (Hope Theatre)

Clare Bloomer is Tracy, fifty years old and stuck in her kitchen making Christmas dinner for her extended family (all 21 of them). They are so picky she has post-its with their food musts and nots on, and a “fart tart” bubbling in the oven for vegan Carol.

As she talks to the walls in Shirley Valentine style, we hear about exploits with best friend Jackie (pride of place in a photo on her fridge, but absent from the gathering for a reason which becomes clear later on), a lost romance, a séance which includes a familiar doggy tale, and the right recipe for gravy.

In a busy set (by Sorcha Corcoran) which is transformed into locations as diverse as bar, hotel room, boxing ring, or station concorse, Tracy chatters, drinks wine (“the good stuff is for the workers”) and demonstrates the sexy way to eat a carrot.

Production photo of Clare Bloomer in 21 Round for Christmas

Hilarious in its early scenes, the focus is expertly shifted into middle age irritation and regret without missing a beat. 21 Round For Christmas is beautifully performed, lit, and scored.

The suggestion of a roomful of people having fun is demonstrated at each opening of the connecting door, and a troublesome kitchen timer adds a mundane tone. It’s an excellent use of sound (designed by Oliver Ballantyne).

Bloomer is an excellent performer with some great comic and dramatic facial reactions – she is always on the go, ringing in audience members for interaction, dealing with a set malfunction, expertly handling the melee just outside the kitchen door.

Production photo of Clare Bloomer in 21 Round for Christmas

Her Tracy has enough regrets to fill a baking tray, but she’s still having fun in her festive apron, blithely referring to mistakes of the past which tantalise but are not fully explored. In one scene her body language opens out to show a moment of vulnerability, but this lady has metaphorical balls of steel.

21 Round for Christmas is totally relatable and well written by Matt Ballantyne and Toby Hampton (who also directs). It has robust language but that just adds the spice, and Tracy’s husband Derek may be never seen but we know exactly what it has been like to live with him. Frankly, it’s more fun in the kitchen.

You can watch 21 Round for Christmas at the Hope Theatre until 18 December – book here. It’s a solid four star joy.

Image credit: Cam Harle