Review: The Twelve Dates of Christmas (The Spread Eagle theatre)


By - Wednesday 27th November, 2013

Self-described 1980s feminist Liz Sheppard-Jones reviews a Christmassy tale of ‘dweebs’ and awful men, and finds that it’s really about women


The Spread Eagle theatre, 26-29 December 2013
Time from East Croydon  8 mins

‘Bridget Jones meets Carrie Bradshaw’ was the promise of the evening, so I went along ready to be seduced. I love Carrie Bradshaw: The hair! The shoes! The clothes! And all in that huge walk-in wardrobe that Big has installed for her in their Manhattan apartment – sigh! And at one point in the mid-90s I may also have identified alarmingly with Bridget Jones (or @JoneseyBJ, to use her modern appellation). A play billed as a meeting of the two was going to have lots in it to like, and I liked it a lot. I also didn’t like it, but we’ll come to that.

I’m in awe of anyone who can put on a one-woman play, and warmed to Sarah Gain who makes the character of Mary, and other members of her family, solid and likeable. Being crapped on by a man is unpleasant and a date with a dweeb can ruin your whole day – cue sisterly-supportive chuckles. Gain makes a cute Everywoman and judges her pathos nicely. Her discovery that her man is cheating minutes before her sister’s engagement is announced at a large family gathering is the most play’s most poignant moment and the line, “actually, I’m not squealing with excitement, I’m hyperventilating!” makes you want to take her out for a comforting SATC-style brunch on the spot.

The play is warm enough for a bit of seasonal feel-good without descending into schlock, and seemed noticeably shorter than it was – just like a good evening’s bonding with a friend. ‘Life-affirming’ is definitely the territory we’re moving into here. And because that’s a nice thing, it felt graceless of me to get irritated. But as my actual friends would testify, victim culture makes me grumpy.

No man, ever in your life, crapped on a woman without first obtaining her full consent, frequently doing so in triplicate

My problem is that Carrie and Bridget are powerful cultural signifiers and not in a positive way – although both are delightful and clever and to my mind rather loveable (I’ll grant that’s a personal thing).  They are not positive because for all their wit and good humour and efforts not to be so, they are the playthings of men and what they signify is comprehensive female failure to take control of their emotional lives. Because here’s the thing – and ladies, listen up: no man, ever in your life, crapped on a woman without first obtaining her full consent, frequently doing so in triplicate.

There’s no nice way to say this – they can smell the need on you. Fuckwittage, as Bridget struggles to perceive, requires permission. Withdraw it, initiate zero tolerance and dweebery will melt away like the last snows of spring leaving a hundred flowers to blossom in the warm sunshine of your self-respect. They do it because we let them, and eye-rolling laughter at the behaviour of the toads we have kissed is just humorous avoidance of the fact that we’re waiting for a prince. Still.

Carrie Bradshaw is imaginary. You realise this when she searches for Aidan’s lost dog for three hours in four inch heels and returns still able to walk. Bridget Jones isn’t real either – she’s so made-up that she’s actually Lizzie Bennett, for the original Bridget Jones’ Diary was based on Pride and Prejudice – instantly rendering any criticism of the leading lady for marrying money redundant, by the way. It’s their fictionality which allows them both the kind of holding-on-for-a-hero-oh-look-here-he-is happy endings which aren’t going to happen to you and me (which still doesn’t mean we have to deal with dweebs). Both, however, are throwbacks, and so is The Twelve Dates Of Christmas.

Those more charitably-minded than I will enjoy the Twelve Dates of Christmas unreservedly

Applause to Mary for discarding the loserboys quickly – which is more than either Carrie or Bridget can manage for far too long – but we’ve been responsible for our own orgasm for a while now. Taking responsibility for the signals we send and the lamentably under-performing dates/on-off entanglements/husbands (delete as applicable) we thereby choose for ourselves surely cannot be far behind. And maybe, just maybe, finding the whole wretched business funny in an eye-rolling, self-deprecatory ‘well-what-do-you-expect?’ kind of way is why it still goes on.

Noise can be an issue in theatres above pubs and this is the case at the Spread Eagle. In this case the bar chatter actually worked with the play at some points – it’s a story about dating, happening out and about in public places – but it would be a spoiler for sure in a production of Harold Pinter’s Silence. That’s a minor quibble, though – it’s a lovely space and a huge asset to Croydon Town Centre.

Those more charitably-minded than I will enjoy The Twelve Dates of Christmas unreservedly and even I, in my grinch-y way, was happy with the ending. Despite myself I wanted Charming to appear by now, but nothing so cheesy occurs. There is, however, the tiny glimmer of a happy-ever-after, and Mary deserves it. Besides – it’s Christmas.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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