Roger Lirtsman and Alex Fast in Christmas Is Miles Away
(© Rachel Roberts)
Roger Lirtsman and Alex Fast in Christmas Is Miles Away
(© Rachel Roberts)
Earlier this year, British playwright Chloe Moss won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her play, This Wide Night, and while that work has not yet made it over to these shores, the award has focused deserved attention on Moss, whose Christmas Is Miles Away is now being presented by Babel Theatre Project at the Connelly Theatre. This quietly understated play is a coming of age tale, although there is no singular event that triggers transformation, but rather a gradual accumulation of life experiences that result in change.

Set in Manchester, England, the play concerns three teenage friends who grow up and apart from one another over the span of a little over two years. Christie (Alex Fast) and Luke (Roger Lirtsman) are best mates, camping out together in the countryside and dreaming of trips to Amsterdam or spending the summers fruit picking. But a different reality is in store for them as one of their father's dies; Christie gets a serious girlfriend, Julie (Emily Landham); and Luke joins the army. In eleven short scenes, we witness the bonds between these individuals both tighten and fray, as they face the looming question of what they're going to do with the rest of their lives, and also have to decide if they still have room for each other in them.

Moss has a keen ear for dialogue, and the conversations nicely capture the rhythms of these working class Northern teens. More impressively, the playwright manages to convey the emotional undercurrents that occupy the space between the things that are said aloud and what is not verbally expressed.

The three fairly unknown young actors all do excellent work in bringing the play to life. Fast immerses himself in the sullen silences that Christie sometimes lapses into, blurring the line between introspection and self-absorption with the result that Christie ends up shutting out the two people who need him most. Lirtsman's Luke is more outwardly verbose, but hides a melancholy inside that only occasionally breaks through -- but when it does, it's extremely moving. Landham gives the impression of a young woman needing an anchor but continually finding herself adrift.

Director Geordie Broadwater should be commended for getting such rich, emotional performances from his cast, as well as for keeping the pace moving quickly through the roughly one hour and 45 minute intermissionless production. Daniel Zimmerman's set transitions smoothly from an outdoor location to the interior of Christie's bedroom, even providing an unexpected angle on the latter during one crucial scene. Dan Scully's lighting is incredibly evocative, whether he's capturing the light of a setting sun in the countryside or moonlight streaming through a window.