The Siege of Christmas 

Directed by Alan Lane

Contact Young Company


Having just seen a big, high octane pantomime earlier this week I was curious as to see how Contact Young Company (CYC) would  approach a Christmas family show. Under the direction of Alan Lane from the wonderful Leeds based Slung Low this was Christmas entertainment at its magical best. 

This promenade performance starts in the foyer as everyone dons headphones which serve to immerse everyone in the performance as it feels like we are all on an Nutcracker Army comms exercise or a festive Mission Impossible!!

Despite the reassuring tone of Dan the Front of House manager there is clearly something seriously amiss at CONTACT. The building has been taken over by some seriously grouchy mince pies and the spirit of Christmas is under siege trapped somewhere in the building we are now locked out off.

What’s more the snow has focused all it’s fall just by the foyer and things are getting a bit chilly. Thank heavens that there is a sudden appearance from a tooled up, highly skilled ninja-like Nutcracker toy soldier who is in search of helpers to save the spirit of Christmas. Sneaking us in via a back door we creep through the darkened with our youngest soldier proudly clutching the remnants of our vital map. This production brilliantly uses the technique of splitting up the audience on the promenade parts to ensure everyone will access needs is included and involved at every stage.

Once inside we encounter a range of magical characters battling their misgivings about Christmas. Elf-like despondent toymakers, sulky teenage fairies who have mislaid their fairy dust, a melting showgirl in a globe  and disheartened life size crackers who can’t pull and feisty rapping  Xmas wrap which has somehow come alive.  

This mission teaches its audience many useful life skills such as how to do the nutcracker freeze , how to custard creep, and how to stop a snow globe from over heating in a building set at a constant 28 degrees. Most importantly of course it reminds us of kindness, co-operation and empathy in an often unequal, unfair World.

All the cast act their wings off and children and adults alike are spellbound by the unfolding scenes. This show makes glorious use of the simple things we associate with Christmas- crackers, twinkling lights, glitter, snowflakes and silly festive jumpers. By the time we have crept through the building gathering resources for our final siege I defy anyone to not feel touched, a little bit humbled and a whole lot more in the mood for Christmas. 

This is a perfect final show for CONTACT as it highlights it’s focus on young people while allowing theatre lovers to say goodbye to a much loved building before it closes its doors for an exciting new rebuilding and refurbishment  programme in 2018. Christmas is looking sparkly and the future of CONTACT is looking bright. 

At CONTACT until Dec 20th



By Stacey Gregg


Happiness. Aching, constant, consuming. On there it’s more real than real life. I’m honest on there. I’m being honest. That’s important”

Out in the real world identity is often a fragile concept, a fluid construct that is subjective and individual to Self. The norms and legislation in Society requires objectivity. The two can make awkward bedfellows, and often produce confusion and misinterpretation especially when looking at gender identity.

The world of online gaming, avatars and messaging can be a haven for those who are confused or conflicted about their identity. Here anything is possible and anyone can be He, She, They or Ryan Gosling.

Amy McAllister is unobtrusively sat in the audience before she begins to snake in her seat as though shedding an unwanted or ill fitting skin or garment. Her movements are painful and beautiful to watch. She pulsates with energy and this begins to look like a interpretative dance performance. 

Then suddenly she moves to sit again in the group and starts to share. Like the confessional space of a therapy group we see an 8yr old girl who favours natty wsistcoats and an 11 yr old frustrated and horrified by burgeoning breasts. Then Kes emerges as a gender confused teenager experiencing online first love in all its bewildering intensity.

Performed in the round this is highly intimate and at times uncomfortably so. The staging is immersive as the audience become  the circle of trust Kes sits in at his LGBTIA support group but later that same circle feels like a threatening courtroom. The lighting in this piece is incredibly important informing when we look at each other and support the performer or when our faces blur and McAllister is alone and vulnerable.

The first half of this performance is funny and joyous as we engage with thie wee Norn Irish lad who embraces with an open heart and a hoodie to hide his girlish ponytail. The beautiful script by Stacey Gregg ensures a sense of understanding as Kes walks an increasingly tenuous line between what is known and what is left unsaid.

The later half quickly descends into the disturbing world of lawyers and courtrooms ill-equipped to deal with a changing society. Here we see the performance darken as a different confusion arises. Do the actions of a gender-confused young person require a lengthy prison sentence or a place on the sex offenders register? This play is based on real life cases such as that of Justine McNally.

SCORCH does not attempt to have all the answers but it raises many important issues. This is a worthy winner of multiple awards and is all the more remarkable emerging from Northern Ireland where only 5 years ago such a group as ours would this evening would have met in a secured room in Belfast’s Psychiatric Unit.

At Contact until 26 May