Winter Solstice

Roland Schimmelpfennig, Translated by David Tushingham
Actors Touring Company
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

Dominic Rowan Credit: Stephen Cummiskey
Milo Twomey, Kate Fahy, Nicholas Le Prevost, Laura Rogers and Dominic Rowan Credit: Stephen Cummiskey
Dominic Rowan and Laura Rogers Credit: Stephen Cummiskey

The Orange Tree's Artistic Director Paul Miller has seemingly developed a taste for existential experimentation. Following Caryl Churchill's wildly funny but distinctly odd Blue Heart, he has invited Ramin Gray on behalf of Actors Touring Company to present this dark, mysterious German comedy.

A group of five intellectual types sit around a messy table apparently reading a film script. They not only share out roles but read the staging instructions for a drama taking place in a family home on Christmas Eve, close to but not necessarily coinciding with the Winter Solstice and its mystical pagan associations.

We gradually divine that these people are an arty and artistic hotchpotch. The home team comprises Laura Rogers as film-maker Bettina, Dominic Rowan's Albert, an author of books presenting left-field thinking in the area of sociology/philosophy, and the heard but not seen Marie, an excitable seven-year-old.

They have three guests who stay for the evening. Kate Fahy is Bettina's mother, Corinna aka Gudrun, a lonely, neurotic handful who threatens harmony at every opportunity. In part this is because she has invited along the mysterious doctor/pianist Rudolph, a mild eccentric played by Nicholas Le Prevost. Rather than an old friend, it emerges that this couple had only met on the train earlier in the day.

Completing the party is Milo Twomey in the role of Konrad, Albert’s oldest friend, who doesn't quite make ends meet as an abstract artist but arrives with a dual hidden agenda.

This group manages to create significant friction over very little, the women pitching and vying for power, while Albert unwisely mixes his prescription pills with red wine, threatening dangerous consequences.

In the background lurks love in the forms of extra-marital affairs and the chance of a late-blooming romance.

These ingredients, delivered with gentle humour and almost impeccable timing by a strong cast, hold the attention aided by a degree of illogicality and seeming non sequiturs to keep viewers on their toes.

However, the biggest uncertainty surrounds Rudolph's background and why he was in and then left Paraguay.

By the alternative endings to an unusual 110 minutes, audience members who are willing to go with the flow may be very little the wiser but should feel themselves intellectually challenged and well entertained.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher