Home Theatre, Manchester; Wednesday 14th February, 2018
A mysterious stranger knocks on the door on Christmas Eve. Who is this man, what does he want, and why is he here?
Winter Solstice by German dramatist Roland Schimmelpfennig is an intriguingly unconventional performance. When the five members of the cast emerge they seat themselves around a table as if they’re part of some fancy board meeting. Yet they’re all dressed in entirely normal clothing, there are no costumes, nor does the set have a backdrop to suggest what the context might be. The table is cluttered and messy, littered with seemingly random paraphernalia such as post-it notes, pens, jugs of water, and sweets.
The performing cast seem to talk about each other, or each other’s characters to be more precise. They describe the time of day, the setting, and who is about to speak and why.
It takes several minutes to compute what is going on. Instead of a conventional theatrical performance where actors in costume play out their drama on a decorated set, Winter Solstice instead relies on the cast providing the audience with a side-running commentary that describes each change in scene / act.
Large parts of this show are therefore more of a dramatised story-telling exercise, rather than a play. As such it wanders a little bit too close to the border between spoken-word radio play and physically-acted stage play – not helped by the decision to deliver the entire performance in a single, two-hour-long sitting with no interval.
But despite this there is an intangible and alluring appeal to Winter Solstice that is difficult to put into words. The underlying story is very strong, it has all the hallmarks of a silver screen thriller – as more and more twists and turns are inserted they each give rise to ever more fanciful and mind-boggling suspicions as to how it will all end.
Ultimately, the quality of the artistic delivery is what holds this performance together. Despite the unconventional methods being used, the various emotions all come across: from the seething anger of having an uninvited guest in the home to the infuriating uncertainty of not knowing what said mysterious stranger is actually trying to achieve.
Winter Solstice takes a circumstance that most people can probably relate to and delivers it in a subtly different and innovative way. Whilst the plot certainly does serve to entertain, the theatrical method seems a little too self-indulgent – this is a show that is perhaps most likely to be truly appreciated and enjoyed by those already in the performing arts industry.
|Visual pleasure||The set was nothing more than tables and chairs, not even a backdrop to create a visual atmosphere. Hence it was rather boring, improved only by the amusingly inappropriate use of random, everyday objects as props.||2|
|Auditory pleasure||Perfectly adequate: mostly spoken-word, with some short bursts of piano music.||2|
|Architecture & Theme||The underlying plot/story is very good, but there is no forgiving a performance that requires an audience to stay seated for 2 hours. There were plenty of cliff-hanger moments that could have been used for an interval.||3|
|Artistic delivery||Large segments of this performance were delivered without physical acting, just recital of lines. But the cast did seem to work well together, elevating this to something just a little bit more than ordinary storytelling.||4|
|Overall impact||An interesting and slightly different way of performing a play. Needed more visual and auditory inputs though, two overwhelming thoughts dominate: 1) this is almost a play for radio, not for theatre; 2) it would probably make a brilliant made-for-TV film.||3|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|