After much anticipation, David Tushingham’s translation of Ronald Schimmelpfenning’s Winter Solstice, presented by the Actors Touring Company and Orange Tree Theatre, has premiered in Scotland. This play is storytelling, stripped bare.
The set consists of four tables, strewn with the sort of paraphernalia you might find in a messy office (plastic bottles, stationary, empty sweet boxes, etc.), and some office chairs, which the cast sometimes use to wheel across the stage. There are scripts on the tables. A place of work and writing.
The lights in the auditorium don’t dim as the play begins. The first line is addressed directly to the audience, immediately breaking the fourth wall. The actors narrate to the audience, and give stage directions to each other, perforating the dialogue throughout.
A liberal, middle-class household on Christmas Eve. Bettina and Albert, played by Kirsty Besterman and Felix Hayes, are unhappily married and having simultaneous affairs. Bettina’s defiant and depreciative mother, Corinna, played by the captivating Marian McLoughlin, has just arrived for a seemingly indefinite holiday visit. Shortly after her arrival, a handsome stranger calls. He introduces himself as Rudolph, a man Corinna met on the train and invited around for drinks. It soon becomes clear that this man is not as he seems and is, in fact, a Neo-Nazi.
The audience are asked to imagine nearly every physical feature of the play, from the characters’ actual appearances, to the objects they use. There are elements of transience, such as how the cast take it in turn to play Bettina and Albert’s young daughter, Marie. When Albert’s childhood friend (and his wife’s lover) Konrad arrives for dinner, he has been on stage the entire time. This makes for some charming and funny moments, for example, Hayes recreating the ringing of a “wealthy, middle-class doorbell” with a spoon and some bottles, and McLoughlin applying lipstick with a highlighter pen. The performance is supplemented with deliciously detailed, descriptive narration, along with the wonderful strains of Chopin, mimed by Rudolph throughout.
The script is terrific. The audience are frequently arrested with profound aphorisms, such as, “art is dead. It has killed itself” and, “the past does not exist – it haunts us. That’s how it exists in the present.” I only wish that some such lines could have been given to the female cast, who have surprisingly contrived and retrograde roles. The play may have been improved upon by editing the scenes where Rudolph’s rambling and sinister rants seem to drag.
Overall, Winter Solstice is a creative, charming revelation in storytelling that reminds audiences that dangerous ideologies can appear when we least expect them.
Image: Stephen Cummiskey