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Winter Solstice review at the Orange Tree Theatre, London – ‘exciting, experimental, insightful’

The cast of Winter Solstice at Orange Tree Theatre. London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, a fascist went raving, spewing out essentialist propaganda within earshot of his unwitting, awkwardly polite hosts’ young child.

This is the Christmas Eve nightmare that confronts Albert (Dominic Rowan) and Bettina (Laura Rogers) in Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Winter Solstice, when Bettina’s mother (Kate Fahy) arrives with an unexpected companion, Rudolph, in tow. Rudolph (Nicholas Le Provost) is a charming, piano-playing throwback with a soft voice, fruity conversation and some increasingly disturbing beliefs about societal purity. Schimmelpfennig’s play becomes some twisted morality tale. A Neo Nazi Calls.

Schimmelpfennig’s masterstroke is not in constructing this compelling situation though, but in how he has his characters describe their actions as they perform them. The cast not only speak their lines, they speak their stage directions too, allowing a whole world of concealed frustrations, desires and anxieties to surface in bursts of delectably dry comedy. Ramin Gray’s Brechtian staging suits David Tushingham’s imperceptibly smooth translation perfectly; his ensemble casually sit at cluttered trestle tables as if in rehearsal, sipping water and acting from the waist up.

Part Churchillian experiment with form, part satirical swipe at a liberal life of pseudo-intellectual posturing, part piercing commentary on the rise of the alt-right, Schimmelpfennig’s play has an awful lot to offer: a rich vein of bitingly sharp humour, a superbly drawn set of flawed characters, and a timely warning that fascism begins at home. It’s exactly the kind of exciting, experimental, insightful theatre the Orange Tree and the Actors Touring Company do so well.


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