Midwinter

Zinnie Harris
Royal Shakespeare Company
Soho Theatre
(2005)

The RSC's take-over of London continues with this short piece playing twice nightly at Soho, the company's fourth London home at the moment.

We are currently awash with post-apocalyptic angst again, as this play follows hot on the heels of Philip Ridley's Mercury Fur and Enda Walsh's The Small Things.

Playwright/director Zinnie Harris' work is set in the bleakest of midwinters at the end of a ten-year war. This has left all of its soldiers blinded by a mysterious parasite and subject to stunning flashes of pain.

Nothing is as it seems. The people are starving and when the excellent John Normington's elderly Leonard and his grandson meet a woman, all of their lives are destined to change.

Food is at a premium and Ruth Gemmell, giving a strong performance as Maud, the owner of a rotting dead horse, is able to keep the boy alive but at a cost. She demands that the silent youngster becomes her own. He then replaces her dead son with all of the complications that inevitably follow, especially when her husband Grenville, played by Pal Aron returns from the dead as a war hero.

This violent man is capable of anything and is destined to follow the horrific pattern of so many returning Greek mythical warriors. Matters become even more confused when the woman's true identity and history are revealed.

John Piper's grim set, barely lit by Wayne Dowdeswell would be perfect for a minimalist version of Mother Courage with its crumbling walls and makeshift washing line.

Midwinter can be mystifying with its precise, poetic language but dense hidden meanings. As an impression of what life might be like in the grimmest war-torn Balkan or African state, it is compelling and largely cheerless.

The 90-minute long play is perhaps more than anything about the human will to survive at any cost and does at least end with a glimmer of hope for a brighter future, despite the threat of a new war.

Peter Lathan reviewed this production at Live Theatre, Newcastle, as part of the RSC Newcastle Season 2004

Reviewer: Philip Fisher