The Long Christmas Dinner: A ghostly telling of a dreamlike curiosity

Thornton Wilder’s expressionist one-act play tracks a family home over 90 years


Peacock Stage, Abbey Theatre, Dublin
"I don't want time to go any faster." "Only the passing of time can help." Years pass "as if life were one long happy Christmas dinner". These are refrains repeated by several of the characters in Thornton Wilder's expressionist curiosity The Long Christmas Dinner, a dreamlike one-act play that unfolds over 90 years in the Bayard family home.

The verbal echoes that reverberate through the decades are one simple way in which Wilder signposts the relentless nature of time passing, and the legacies of generational continuity. There are textual clues that place his work in a particular place and time (the American midwest between the 1850s and 1930s), but the reach of the work is really more universal.

Purgatorial would be a good word to describe the onstage reality as Sarah Jane Scaife and Raymond Keane interpret it, but Wilder's play is far too warm and whimsical in tone and vision for that

Directed by Sarah Jane Scaife and Raymond Keane, this staging is a deliberately spare production, in which scenes and the passing of time unfold with graceful fluidity, as the characters play musical chairs in accordance with their status.

The desaturated colour palette of Sally Withnell’s set and Stephen Dodd’s lighting design gives the action an otherworldly, ghostly effect, even as the white light that draws the characters in turn into the wings is the true physical manifestation of death’s inevitability.


Purgatorial would be a good word to describe the onstage reality as Scaife and Keane interpret it, but Wilder’s play is far too warm and whimsical in tone and vision for that.

Minimal props demand a physical edge from the actors' characterisations, and here too there are echoes of inherited mannerisms as Charles (Emmet Byrne) takes over the role of turkey carver from his father Roderick I (Bryan Burroughs), for example, or Lucia I (Valerie O'Connor) gingerly inhabits Mother Bayard (Rachael Dowling)'s seat.

But it is the late arrival to dinner of elderly Aunt Ermengarde (Máire Ní Ghráinne), who seems determined to outlive them all, who we, just like the family, must look to for consolation and comfort. "It'll all be the same in a hundred years," she observes as the rest of the family exit, leaving her alone in the diningroom; maybe not in this Bayard home, but in the other homes that will be made and remade by our descendants into the future.

Runs at the Peacock until Friday, December 31st