There’s more to Christmas than Santa, Jesus and stuffed fowl, and comedian turned playwright Alison Spittle casts the net wider for the subject of her new festive entertainment. Glacier is about wild swimming on Christmas Day – quite the fashion recently, but less so when Dawn, Jools and Lucy first congregate in 2007 on the banks of Foxleighmere lake. The trio meet when wronged wife Lucy hurls her wedding ring into the water. It bonks Dawn on the head, and a friendship gradually grows as the threesome reconvene yearly for their annual plunge.
At first, Lucy’s eagerness to recover her ring gives the narrative its scant momentum. Then the trio find a body in the water, and a story seems to take shape. But these (improbably, for a freshwater lake) are herrings, of the red variety: Spittle isn’t in the business of plot. Glacier is about the slow – glacial, even – movement of this three-way relationship over 15 years, as curt civility gives way to occasional confidence cedes to the quiet sustenance often provided by those who are fixtures, if only annual ones, in our lives.
It’s an evening of low-key pleasures, then. We do explore the story of Lucy’s jettisoned jewellery, why Jools is so buttoned-up, and what’s going on behind Dawn’s bluff exterior. But Spittle’s treatment of this material is more like timid Lucy at Christmas than bold Jools – paddling in the shallows, not a deep dive.
It’s fun, though. There are peppy dialogues about Santa (“a scumbag”), Brexit and George Michael’s death. There’s swimming as represented by three actors gliding on swivel chairs, a surprisingly effective device performed with a winning twinkle off the edge of Cory Shipp’s wooden jetty set. There are likable performances, particularly from Sophie Steer as a woman seeking watery refuge from Christmas dinner (“I hate gravy”) and her kids. Emma Lau struggles to bring Lucy to quite such vivid life.
Perhaps Glacier could do with more wild to go with all the swimming. But its unshowy tenderness has its charms, as it explores this little corner of Christmas reserved for female escape – and friendship.
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