Sion Pritchard is already on stage before the audience file in for Last Christmas. He seems awkward at first, pivoting on his feet and avoiding eye contact. There is no set bar a few lights and no props to speak of; this is simply a meditative hour on the catharsis of loss between the audience and the captivating Welshman.
For what eventually becomes a wildly emotional one man set, the piece opens strongly comic, with Pritchard’s Tom, a likeable self-deprecating office drone, explaining his heavy hangover by way of the dreaded Christmas party the night prior. Tom’s eye for detail here is hilarious as he sketches out the familiar drudgery of enforced workplace fun with a cutting sardonic eye. His varied imaginative assaults upon his hated manager Suze shine in particular here, from forcing her head to a shredder, to cooking her like a turkey and feeding her to others.
This isn’t to say that Pritchard isn’t capable of high drama too. The Christmas journey back home that the hour chronicles, his first since the death of his father which hangs over the play, is vivid and upsetting. From meeting back up with old friends and comparing lives, to eventually returning to his father’s grave to attempt some closure, the performance is sharp and unrelenting. Pritchard benefits from seeming to have a bit of a stand-up comedian in his body, his movements jerky with hands constantly conducting some far-off music.
It is incredibly difficult to strike such a balance between harrowing tales of parental loss and laddish evocations of getting pissed, but Pritchard for the most part stays steady on the tightrope. Personally I felt the closing sections in which he details his own acceptance of his father’s death were a tad heavy-handed, especially considering the character is spoken of little to the end, but this is nevertheless a remarkably moving piece that coasts quickly along with clever writing and moving portrayals.
Last Christmas is at the Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17) until 25 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.