The characters in Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings skate on very thin ice as they hurtle from banality to farce, to pathos.

The tone for this unhappy Christmas is set by the repugnant Harvey, who delights in mocking Bernard, an easy target with his puppet show and his boozy wife Phyllis, splendidly present backstage.

Each figure in this dismal gathering has his or her own anguish, enacting lives of noisy desperation.

Belinda is the driving force behind the festivities, fighting for some kind of goodwill, however ruefully.

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She is played with great force and subtlety by Hannah Smith, evincing sympathy as well as laughter when she admits to paying for and wrapping her own presents.

Nev, her husband, simply reminds her that he is in retail, so what can she expect at that time of the year?

Nev has a shed and his shadow friend, Eddie, joins him there as often as possible.

Eddie’s wife, Pattie, is heavily pregnant but doesn’t want another child. For one thing, their finances are in shreds.

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No one is safe in this dreary living room, they are all stripped away to their bare inadequacies.

And yet it’s enormous fun, performed with gusto and conviction.

Director Katie Thompson and her technical crew navigated the limited space with apparent ease, allowing each one of the performers their own small tragedies.

At times it was impossible to know whether to laugh or weep, a triumph of production as well as Ayckbourn’s writing.

One of the most memorable performances was Debbie Thompson as a gloriously tipsy Phyllis - less of a simpleton than she pretends to be, a survivor of sorts.

Other highlights include one of the most botched sexual encounters I have witnessed on stage, a hilarious puppet show presented with manic intensity by David Robinson, and the sadness of Belinda’s last words.

Runs until Saturday, November 18.

Review by Peter Pegnall