Winter Solstice is like a play I have never seen before. It was unexpected, intriguing and exciting.
I always enjoy visiting Home in Manchester. It’s a theatre that brings experimental and thought provoking drama both nationally and internationally to our beautiful city. Winter Solstice is no different.
Roland Schimmelpfennig is one of Germany’s most prolific playwrights and after watching this production I can see why. The premise is very simple. It’s Christmas Eve. Married couple Bettina and Albert are already arguing as his mother in law is visiting for the holidays. However, things soon start to take a turn for the worst as a stranger appears at the door ready to join the festivities.
As the play unfolds you start to see the cracks in the family. The husband and wife are not so blissfully in love. The mother in law is bitter, lonely and desperate. And more worryingly, the stranger seems harmless. A charming old man full of stories and ideas. Until his views become more vocal and it becomes clear a Neo-Nazi has been invited into their lives.
Winter Solstice was very ‘Brechtian’. It sounds like a snobby term but basically Bertolt Brecht was a German practitioner who revolutionised drama. His works were political and devised so that an audience recognised they were watching theatre and not real life. It wasn’t about emotion it was about message.
This play did exactly that. So much so, I wondered if I had entered the wrong room. Desk chairs, tables full of junk food and office supplies sat on stage. The actors walked in with scripts in hand. Was this a first draft reading? Had I read the blurb wrong? But no. This was all intentional.
This allowed for a really interesting use of dialogue as the actors read the stage directions, scene settings and character subtext. We had a new insight into the true thoughts and feelings of the characters, which was often the best opportunity for humour. Even with it’s serious undertone, the staging was extremely playful.
The bits and bobs on stage were used a props; a grape as a pill, bottle as a mobile and orange as an expensive bauble. This creativity kept me guessing and I looked forward to the next unusual use of prop. It started to pick up speed and escalate as disorder was introduced, until just at the crescendo the pace sharply slowed. My only real dislike was the lack of a definitive end to the plot.
Part script reading, part film, part prose and running without interval, this was an unusual hybrid.
We are erring dangerously close to the idea of dictatorship since the farce of Trump and slowly losing faith in the citizen voice since the shock of Brexit. The world is in turmoil. That makes Winter Solstice feel sadly relevant.
This isn’t just a Christmas family drama. It’s a political warning. It’s one of the most captivating pieces of of Theatre I’ve seen in a long time.
Do you like experimental or political theatre?
Winter Solstice presented by Actors Touring Company and Orange Three Theatre runs at Home Manchester until 17th February 2018. https://homemcr.org/production/winter-solstice/
Image Credits: Stephen Cummiskey