If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that Christmas is one of the most difficult days of the year. The lead up is nearly unbearable – constant glitter and sparkles and fairylights and images of a poor but happy Jewish family nursing a blonde boy lying in straw, or worse – a rosy cheeked Coca-cola Santa winking with his all-knowing judgement. It’s a stressful time of year. And to be honest, I don’t like it.

Luckily, the latest offering from Phil Spencer’s pen (or printer cartridge) is not Christmas Day – it’s the day that washes up afterwards, which is designed as a day of washing-up the Christmas dinner plates – Boxing Day.

First the disclaimer – this was one of the first scripts I read for the very first sets of Off The Shelf in 2009. I had read the script and had no idea who Phil Spencer and Scarlet McGlynn were – but they applied together and I was on the hunt for plays to develop/ give space to when I was kicking around Queen Street Studio. I read the small section, based on a newspaper article and knew immediately that Phil had talent. I made a call, and shocked by Phil’s scottish accent – I offered them some time and space. I attended some of Scarlet and Phil’s meetings – watched them spread out the wide white sheets of butchers paper over the tarquet flooring of Studio 14 – and watched them shuffle and scamper around the papers. They were bursting with ideas, talking fast and alot, colliding into what they thought the play was about and what it could be. They stared at me. I told them to keep going – they had plenty of time. Plenty. Before long, Boxing Day had some time at STC in 2009 (Picked up by Polly Rowe who attended the OTS showing) and then at NORPA in 2010. Since 2009 I have worked with them both on and off – Brand Spanking New, Stories from the 428, Blueprint, Cut & Paste etc so I know where they’re coming from. And now I am honoured to be amongst the blue lit faces watching this fully formed story. And I am nothing short of astounded by the work and talent of Phil and Scarlet. Astounded.

The story is fairly simple and feels familiar – for those who are reading this who haven’t yet gone to the show who hunger for more spoilers – you can check out Jason Blake’s review here

I’ve had a couple of days to let this play sit with me and moments return to me throughout my day – Freya chasing cheerios around in her breakfast bowl, whilst she bargains with Nan… an awkward Poppy overly enthusiastic and then crippled by shyness in front of an imaginary cameraman… a father squinting into the flicker of a TV screen as his daughter looks on adoringly… the ceremony of Christmas crackers… the heartwrenching sob of a ten year old girl who is finally, finally held by her father…

On an elegantly designed Old Fitz Stage (Set and costumes by Rita Carmody) silky white sand arcs around the space and a white-washed wall like the bleached retaining wall of a headland. The ceiling is hung with beautiful bulbs, like that of a Christmas tree, but for us, a twinkling design by Christopher Page.

We first meet Freya (Holly Austin) with her best friend Poppy (Annie Byron who also plays Nan) directing the ever-fun childhood game of “funerals.” But this makes sense in more than one way – children are somewhat fascinated by death – and perhaps this fascination is amplified in Freya since her mother’s death. Now she is living with her maternal grandmother while her dad is away, working on an oil rigg. As Freya (Holly Austin) is busy waiting for her father (Alan Flower) as only a ten year old can – with a series of what ifs and wanderings – which quickly turn into terminal illness – and then to instant recovery.

I laugh at the familiarity of it all. Of the banter and the quips that bounce and bounce-back. I watch as Freya wheels and deals, is hopeful, then strategic – and I love her for her perseverence and her creativity. And I wonder how it is that so many of us start out feeling the possibility of things – and then we let them slip away. I laugh at the one liners, keenly carved. I laugh at the wit and the word play. I laugh at the terrible jokes…

You could be forgiven for getting the impression from this resposnse that this is a comedy. This isn’t a comedy.

But there is something else… a sense of quiet aching nostalgia? A wistfulness?

There is something deeper afoot here.

It’s a dramatic play, with clowning elements, with comedic moments – but this isn’t a comedy in the light entertainment sense -there is nothing flippant or flighty or feel-good about this play. It’s more than that. It is weightier, meatier, more solid than that. But don’t get the wrong impression – it’s not earnest or overly dark or overly “clever.”

Spencer’s script strikes the balance beautifully – we listen because we want to hear what’s next. It’s the way he handles the sound of words that makes his writing special. It’s not of the stilted, jarring interchanges that are popular in new theatre writing. There is something natural, something transparent and yet something poetic. Listen to the monologues of Nana and you’ll hear what I mean.

This of course only one part of the picture – McGlynn has given a dream cast room to move and breathe and feel and be in this play. She has set the conditions for play and playfulness – for authentic interchange. Annie Byron, Alan Flower, Holly Austin – each imbuing their roles with beautiful and complex detail. How can we not want more for them all? How can we not want to see what happens next? The challenge for a director of new work is to serve the play, serve the story to the audience without getting in the way – and McGlynn has handled this with great evenness, generosity and consistency.

It’s a tender parable not to forget the ones we love, and not to forget to show them we are there.

I urge you to see this – because as you see more of TinShed’s work evolve and flourish -you’ll want to be the one to say you saw their first show.

And you know what, I reckon you’ll have a good time at the theatre. It’s everything a good night out should be – entertaining, funny, poignant, moving and fun. Check it out.