WINTER SOLSTICE, by Roland Schimmelpfennig
An Orange Tree Theatre and Actors Touring Company co-production
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, until 11 February, 2017.
1hr 50 mins, without interval.
Review: Tom Aitken 18 January
Christmas play with a host of raised, then contradicted expectations.
As the production team introduces it collectively in the programme: Winter Solstice starts with a German family’s Christmas gathering: a middle-class household, a bickering couple, a visiting in-law, an awkward guest.
It sounds like Alan Ayckbourn, does it not? If so, it is definitely Aykbourn in his later phase. In its often somewhat farcical way, the play was written by Schimmelpfennig as a response to the to the rise of the far right in Austria, something by which he is obviously greatly disturbed.
The family, it is clear, comes together mainly when there is a seasonal festival to be celebrated. The three generations on show are obviously not all that used to dealing with each other and tolerating each other’s foibles. Even without the unexpected guest invited without warning by the
unattached older relative, there would have been disagreements and tensions.
But the unexpected guest (picked up on a train on her way to the party by the Corinna) is given to making political and other pronouncements almost in the manner of an Old Testament prophet, acting as a dogmatic fly-in-the ointment.
This is all very interesting in its way, but might have seemed a little over-familiar had it not been for another stand-out novelty in the script.
People do not merely talk to each other. They present themselves to us in the audience directly, telling us who they are and what they think and why, throwing in bits of narrative, prompting and talking to and about each other in analytical ways (often quite cruelly). This is not merely a way of making the presentation unusual. Rather it evokes the ways in which our behaviour is a mixture of the straightforward attempt to communicate to others with attempts to to explain to ourselves what our motives are and what we are trying to put across to those we are addressing.
None of them, however, has much idea how to handle Rudolf (the stranger picked up on the train by Corinna). Rudolph is a gift to an actor such as Nicholas Le Prevost. He can do self-contained, he can do domineering, and is a master of visible scorn, spoken or unspoken. We see him take over the evening, although from time to time we get a hint that maybe he sees that as a pointless exercise
Much of what the other characters tell us about themselves is self-justification and although that is sometimes an uninteresting subject to an outsider listening, it is also often very funny.
This play, therefore, does not fit easily into any categorical classification. It touches on generation gaps, and on the mutual boredom and irritation these can induce, and, surfacing now and then, on what a play is and how it works.
See it, take it as it comes, laugh a lot, discuss it afterwards.
Corinna: Kate Fahy
Rudolph: Nicholas Le Prevost
Bettina: Laura Rogers
Albert: Dominic Rowan
Konrad: Milo Twomey
Director: Ramin Gray
Designer: Lizzie Clachan
Lighting: Jack Knowles
Sound: Alexander Caplen
Costumes: Joanna Coe