‘Nine Lessons and Carols’: blackly hilarious sketches on life in 2020

Theatre, Drama
Nine Lessons and Carols, Almeida Theatre, 2020
Photo by Helen Murray Nine Lessons and Carols, Almeida Theatre, 2020

Time Out says

The Almeida bounces back with this barrage of satirical skits and songs about our really weird year

Due to London entering Tier 3, the remaining run for ‘Nine Lessons and Songs’ has been cancelled, but it will be available to view on the Almeida YouTube channel until January 2.

Were ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ to be revived in 20 years, future audiences would presumably be confused as to why one of the sketches in it simply features a man – in 2020, played by the terrific Elliot Levey – balefully reciting a recipe for banana loaf.

But of course, we know. Although it uses no language expressively tying it to 2020, the Almeida’s kaleidoscopic comeback show – devised by playwright Chris Bush, director Rebecca Frecknall and the cast – is essentially this year in revue. And it’s at its best when it’s turning a satirical eye on the cultural detritus of 2020: a series of skits skewering aggressively schmaltzy lockdown advertising; a sketch about a son moving back in with his dad; a closing sight gag where the cast shuffles off stage with scarves over their faces in classic oh-shit-I’ve-forgotten-my-mask style.

The Almeida is not the place to go to for a lighthearted sketch show, however: there is a dizzying array of styles and seriousness on offer here, ranging from songs to parables to an Edgar Allen Poe-indebted bit about getting a dog during lockdown. 

It tends to aim for the absurdist, and perhaps loses a bit of weight in the process. Pretty much the only sketches to play it straight are the two in which Black cast members Naana Agyei-Ampadu and Toheeb Jimoh – who one assumes had direct input – play a couple debating whether to attend this summer’s Black Lives Matters march – they pack a lot more of a punch than the more comic segments around them.

Then again, the show’s default tone of morbid hilarity is a pretty spot-on reflection of what most of us have been through this year. ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ is 2020, stomped into jagged shards and lobbed mischievously across the stage.

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