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Old Fire Station, Oxford

Arts at the Old Fire Station is a new charity and social enterprise based in Oxford’s hub for creativity. "We are committed to helping local artists make and showcase their work as well as providing great entertainment and exhibitions. Within our building, you will find a shop selling original artwork, a gallery with a wide range of exhibitions, a theatre and studio for dance, drama and music and workshops for artists. We also have space to hire for classes, rehearsals and meetings."

Web site and box office

The Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AQ. 01865 263980.


Reviews of Snowflake

5th to 22nd December 2018

Review from The Times.

five stars
This is a new play by Mike Bartlett, the megastar writer for TV and stage who directed his first “proper piece of theatre” at the Old Fire Station in the mid-1990s. He was 18 and living in Oxford and at the time the Fire Station was part nightclub, part theatre. He directed his friend Jonny Donahoe (yes, the comedian). He returned 15 years later to see Donahoe’s play Thirty Christmases and was mightily impressed, by the play and the place.

This is now part theatre, part crisis centre and it is quite something having a Mike Bartlett premiere at such a local hero type venue. But you get the feeling, from the programme note, that it was right for Bartlett too. “That maybe after writing quite a bit of television recently,” he writes (that would be Doctor Foster and Press), “writing a play for the OFS might be what I needed creatively; a challenge to write something very different.”

This play, directed by Clare Lizzimore, is a winner: warm and funny, but also bracing, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it popping up on TV next year at about this time. It’s a “Christmas for adults” tale that begins with a man named Andy sitting in a community hall, fussing about the decorations. He has decorated a tree and built a miniature snowy house scene. “WELCOME BACK,” says the sign behind him. (Brilliant homespun set by Jeremy Herbert.)

Andy is waiting for someone, nervous, practising his lines. At one point he puts on a Christmas jumper with a pudding on it. “Terry and June wore a good one in the 1982 Terry and June Christmas special,” he says. Andy is one of those men who get to middle age and get angry because HMV has changed and Terry and June are no more.

Gradually we figure out that he’s waiting for his daughter, Maya, who left home a few years ago. Andy, who is played by Elliot Levey with great intensity, has heard that she’s back in town. A woman named Esther — who looks like Esther Rantzen, but isn’t — spotted her in a café.

Suddenly, just when Andy’s monologue is getting a little boring, we hear someone at the door. “Hi,” chirps a tall young woman named Natalie in a neon orange puffer jacket. Looking at his crestfallen face she asks: “Were you expecting someone else?”

Natalie (Racheal Ofori) is fascinating, a snowflake millennial who wouldn’t melt in your mouth. Their conversation, about family and Brexit in particular, is riveting (yes, I know, surprising). I won’t give away the ending, but it’s a corker. So, yes, Christmas for grown-ups. Excellent stuff.


Review from The Guardian.

Mike Bartlett's Christmas drama for a divided Britain

A masterfully written generational clash lies at the heart of this timely story rich in insight, poignancy and optimism

four stars

It is a quite a coup for this bustling arts centre to have secured a new Mike Bartlett play for Christmas. The result is a poignant story of an estranged father and daughter that becomes a much wider study, even encompassing Brexit, of generational conflict. Its great virtue is that – as in Albion and King Charles III – Bartlett shows a rare capacity to be fair towards both sides of an argument.

Andy is a middle-aged man who has hired an Oxfordshire village hall on Christmas Eve in the hope of welcoming back his daughter, Maya, who walked out on him after the death of her mother. The first part is a monologue in which Andy relives his desperate attempts to trace his daughter while revealing, through references to Terry and June, Notting Hill and Knight Rider, that he is a man stuck in the past. But the stakes are raised with the arrival of a young woman, Natalie, who has seemingly come to collect some crockery but who challenges Andy’s political and social values.

At the risk of sounding like Andy, I was momentarily reminded of John Osborne’s 1964 play Inadmissible Evidence, in which the hero attacks the youth culture of the day. But Bartlett astutely tempers Andy’s retro attitudes with some shrewd points such as the suggestion that identity politics has supplanted a concern with class and economics.

While Natalie quickly detects any hint of middle-aged misogyny and passionately articulates the case for remain in the big debate, she is not without a hint of self-righteousness. Without giving the game away, Bartlett argues that we have to hope for some form of private and public reconciliation in fractured times.

Clare Lizzimore’s production brings out the story’s emotion while carefully balancing its points of view and is excellently acted. Elliot Levey captures precisely Andy’s neediness, frustration and tendency to patronise the young, Racheal Ofori is bright-eyed and sharp-witted as Natalie and Ellen Robertson puts in a late, touching appearance as Maya. You could argue that the situation is contrived, but this is a seasonal show with a heart and mind.


Review from The Financial Times.

four stars
There are four principal species of Christmas stage shows: traditional pantomimes, serious dramas with seasonal settings, comic pieces from other tales or original stories, and children’s/family shows, which are usually adaptations from kids’ books and scheduled for daytime performances. Having no tiny colleagues to accompany me, I’ve neglected the final category and visited representatives of the other three.

The Old Fire Station in Oxford prides itself on offering “Christmas shows for grown-ups”; it’s also vaguely appropriate that a venue co-run with the homelessness charity Crisis presents a show about a nervous father preparing to meet with the daughter who left home two years earlier. Playwright Mike Bartlett is accomplished at interrogating our liberal assumptions, and here creates a figure who is hyper-conscious of possible incorrectness in certain areas while blind to his alienating conduct where it counts. It’s an excellent performance by Elliot Levey, under Clare Lizzimore’s direction. Bartlett is also moving ever farther into his provocative territory; where several of his earlier plays merely identify the argument, Snowflake actually has it out — and finds a tentatively affirmative resolution. ’Tis the season, after all.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

This could be the play of the year

'If there are still tickets, go' says N2's reviewer

Snowflake, at the Old Fire Station, Oxford, until Saturday, December 22

Mike Bartlett, a dramatist local to Oxford and best known for his television dramas Doctor Foster and Press and the stage hit King Charles III, has written one of the plays of the year – Snowflake – for Oxford's inspirational Old Fire Station theatre.

Directed with total clarity by Clare Lizzimore, the central character is Andy (Elliot Levey), a curly-haired, greying, middle-aged widower, whose cultural references are several decades old. He has agonised over the decision of his absent teenage daughter Maya to disappear from his life without explanation.

Now, someone in a cafe in the centre of Oxford has told him that Maya has returned to the city. Andy has left a desperate message for her to meet him in a church hall which he has festooned with decorations, a model house with an iced-over pond in the garden and a welcome back sign (designer, Jeremy Herbert). Andy does not know how to turn on the Christmas lights for his display

The first 40 minutes are a monologue where Andy mulls over his life, and reconsiders his relationship with Maya.

During the monologue we don't know if Maya, whom we assume to be the snowflake referred to, will be the Iceman who cometh or Godot, who doesn't.

Levey is brilliant at showing his growing anxiety while exuding false confidence. It is therefore a real surprise when the first half ends with the entrance of a young black woman, Natalie (Racheal Ofori, so natural she does not appear to be acting), and not the hoped-for Maya. Andy discovers that Natalie is most definitely not a snowflake and is strangely omniscient and wise.

The second half is structurally different from the first – mostly a duologue in the form of a verbal tennis match between Natalie and Andy where she is censorious of Andy's attitude and behaviour to Maya when Maya was a teenager. Natalie introduces issues of gender, race and even Brexit (Andy voted Leave, one of the 30 per cent in Oxford) to critique Andy's outdated world view.

The twist at the end is worth waiting for.

If there are still tickets, go.


There is a review from The Stage ("Mike Bartlett's new play is heart-warming, topical Christmas show for grown ups, constructed with care and craft" - 4 stars).

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