GLYNIS Barber is wondering whether she can order dinner in this Christmas.
“I don’t think I’m allowed much of one this year because I’m going straight from this into a panto in Tunbridge Wells with no break at all,” she says ahead of taking Season’s Greetings to Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre on Monday.
“And then I’ll be doing two shows a day so I don’t really have time for Christmas this year.”
In Ayckbourn’s hit comedy Glynis plays frustrated wife Belinda, preparing for a festive family gathering that won’t be all pressies and baubles.
“I spend the first 25 minutes of this play decorating a Christmas tree so I think I’ll be all treed out by the time I get to Christmas.
“We’re quite a small family unit because I was born in South Africa, my husband was born in America and we have one son so we don’t actually have relatives in this country.
“I have a slightly different experience to everybody else and people in this play in that there aren’t millions of us.
“It’s just the three of us and my boys are very unconventional.
“My husband, he’d be happy to eat a hamburger on Christmas Day but I always insist on doing a turkey.
“They’re really not bothered, very untraditional.
“My usual experience is trying to make it a bit more traditional, but I’m happy to eat out this Christmas or order in.
“I wonder if you can get a takeaway on Christmas Day.”
For now Glynis is enjoying being a part of a fictitious Yule Tide scenario in which the reality of forced merriment sinks traditional expectations.
“It is about a family having Christmas and as ever we all start with high hopes that this year is going to be wonderful and glorious, we are just going to drink wine and have lovely food and everyone is going to get on.
“And then, of course, as Christmas goes on everybody starts getting on each others nerves.
“This is a spectacular example of that, of people coming together and it just turning out to be miserable.
“However, because of Ayckbourn there are so many laughs and there’s something comforting in knowing that what we all go through, good or bad, is a universal thing. One can look at it and laugh.
“It is a fun play to do and I’m enjoying it very much, but he’s a bit more challenging than he looks, Ayckbourn.
“It looks quite easy but it’s not, so it keeps you on your toes.”
In fact, like many admirers of a playwright regarded by some as an English Chekhov, Glynis believes Ayckbourn’s skills are often taken for granted.
“Because he’s been so incredibly prolific and writing plays for so long I think we have a tendency, but really he’s been incredibly innovative in his career with the Norman Conquests and writing from a different perspective.
“Season’s Greetings is a comedy but it’s a dark comedy.
“You can’t help laughing but underneath there are people who are unhappy, empty, unable to communicate, who are in unhappy marriages.
“Underneath all the hilarity are these very real people.
“The thing with Aykbourn, the characters are so recognisable.
“His observations of people are absolutely brilliant, succinctly put and beautifully written.
“Some will resonate with people.”
Certainly Belinda is in stark contrast to the most high profile of Barber’s roles in recent times, that of ‘vixen’ Glenda Mitchell in EastEnders.
“I only went in it for a few episodes and they didn’t really define her as such,” says Glynis, a little defensive of the character she left behind in March.
“They just said ‘she’s a mother and she’s come back for the money’.
“I never tried to play her as somebody bad, which I never do; maybe in the panto I will, but when you’re playing a part you try to understand them.
“There’s always a reason somebody behaves in a certain way so you try and find that reason and completely humanise them.
“You lose sight of why people think they’re horrible.
“They don’t understand why people are reacting as they are to them and so it is with a character.
“Every time I saw someone they said ‘Glenda, she’s so horrible’.
“I was quite taken aback.
“And then you watch yourself...”
Season’s Greetings runs Monday until Saturday.