What a tonic this was. The RSC's Festive Tales was broadcast live from Stratford on Saturday night and had a tough act to follow: the Prime Minister's statement from Downing Street, which broke the hearts of countless families across the nation. Few households would have been in an ebulliant mood.
And yet, in its stripped-back, gently low-key way, Erica Whyman's production showed there are some things about Christmas that cannot be cancelled. The underlying messages of hope, light and lives transformed remain.
One of the most striking features of festive tales was its use of sign language. Interpreter Clare Edwards seemed a central figure throughout, her flowing motions and emotional connection with the work lending a mesmerising artistry to proceedings, aside from contributing greatly to a sense of embrace and inclusion. She was the focus of attention during O Come all ye Faithful, which opened the show, the carol being sung gorgeously by Matt Bond, Dale Harris, Alex Saunders and Charlotte Sleet.
Joseph Kloska and Amanda Hadingue, two of the RSC's most eminently likeable actors, then took to the stage to welcome the online audience, wisely acknowledging the day's dismal news but adopting a well-tuned cheer nevertheless. There followed a series of vignettes, songs and readings performed by a 16-strong ensemble of 16: scenes from past RSC productions including The Christmas Truce and A Christmas Carol; renditions of sacred and secular Christmas favourites; texts by Jane Austen, Maya Angelou and more brought to vivid life.
t was endearingly rough around the edges in places and some parts worked better than others, but that much is to be expected. While there was plenty of quality on show - most notably from Adjoa Andoh and Andrew French - more important was the spirit of the thing. Entertainment at Christmas can often seem a bit too slick, a bit coldly professional, deriving from rather cynical motives. This was the opposite: the heart from which it sprung is evidently good and invariably well-meaning. It was full of soul and quite lovely, a reminder of why Christmas is worth celebrating in the first place. How invaluable that is this year.
* Festive Tales is part of the RSC's Tales for Winter season and is available to watch online until Boxing Day. Visit www.rsc.org.uk/events/tales-for-winter for details.