Glacier | Review of Alison Spittle's new play © Alex Harvey-Brown
review star review star review half star review blank star review blank star


Review of Alison Spittle's new play

Premiering at Oxford’s Old Fire Station Theatre, the second play from Irish comedian Alison Spittle revolves around the world of wild swimming. But Glacier really only paddles in the shallow end of the topics it draws upon.

Outdoor dips might be faddish, but the stand-up sets her scenes over 15 successive Christmas Days, long predating the current trend. Each passing year is indicated by a lengthy montage of news headlines – a clumsy device which means we’re invited to consider such monumental concerns as Black Lives Matter, the erosion of US abortion rights and rapist-killers in the Metropolitan Police before bringing our focus back to the relatively mundane lives of three women who meet for their annual dip. The clips momentarily lend the play a fake significance that’s not matched by the rest of the content.

Three women on a jetty in Santa hats

What Spittle gets dead right is the characterisations, especially Dawn, an older woman who struggles with making friends. As wonderfully portrayed by Debra Baker, there’s a humanity behind the slightly pricklier exterior. 

She punctuates her loneliness with the dip she takes in Lake Foxleighmere every December 25 that happens to coincide with the same swim taken by Jools, a no-nonsense former athlete incapable of showing much emotion. She’d rather have a Pro Protein shake than turkey and all the trimmings for Christmas dinner – far more efficient and unsentimental – so comes here instead. She eventually discloses why she’s so distant - but like so much of the play, it’s a very understated revelation.

Lucy is the wettest blanket on the lakeside, superficially living a middle-class perfect life, with Christmas meals worthy of a glossy supplement, but actually in a loveless marriage – and similarly too wimpy to do more than dip a toe into the icy lake most years. However, as portrayed by Emma Lau, she seems whiny and unconvincing whenever she tries to open up emotionally.

Their friendships are tentative, inching along, yes, glacially, from year to year as they slowly open up a little each time. A death near the end of act one promises to propel the drama into a new direction, but rather it just nudges the nature of the trio’s relationships a tad. Realistic, perhaps, but unsatisfying.

Conversations on nothing mull ideas such as the notion that an all-seeing Santa might be an agent of the surveillance state – which is gently amusing but can’t help but seem like an underdeveloped stand-up premise. There’s gentle, dry humour throughout – and a couple of cracking gags – but it’s not really a comedy, just like there’s not really enough going on to give it dramatic impetus. Instead, it’s a low-key portrayal of female friendships that has some charm but doesn’t dive deep enough.

Two women with lifebuoy

Archive news footage aside, the staging by director Madelaine Moore and designer Cory Shipp is inventive, especially the amusing use of office swivel chairs to have the women glide around the space as if swimming.

But is there enough to warrant taking the plunge into the latest in the Old Fire Station’s latest alternative Christmas stories? I have to admit this wild swimming saga left me a little cold.

Review date: 8 Dec 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Oxford Old Fire Station

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.