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Solitaire – Tales from the Golden Age, Golden Age Theatre

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Writer and Director: Ian Dixon Potter

Appearing in a series of monologues from the Golden Age Theatre Company, Solitaire takes us to the heart of Little England.

Sat in a modest living room is Arnold (played by David Vale). Now in his eighties, Arnold considers the impact lockdown, and a global pandemic, has had on his everyday life. As an elderly man, he remarks at how little difference lockdown has made to him, and his wife, Claire. Their only regular contact with the outside world is the Meals on Wheels delivery man.

Arnold is the focus of this monologue, and David Vale draws us in with a performance that is calm and measured, but never losing momentum. Told in the spirit of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, Vale holds our interest, moving through a kaleidoscopic shift of Arnold’s ideas, opinions and memories.

He informs us, wistfully, that many of their neighbours have either moved away or passed on. Home owning has moved into an age of rentals and multiple occupancy, and Arnold’s circle of friends and acquaintances – especially after retirement – has shrunk even further.

We dip into Arnold’s views on politics, when he mentions a lack of connection with their only child, Stephen. While Brexit is never explicitly mentioned, Dixon Potter cleverly weaves it into the narrative. Even though Arnold is a recognisable type, Dixon Potter avoids many of the clichés. In discussing his clash with Stephen, Arnold observes that opinions have become increasingly entrenched, to a point where debate feels impossible. Everyone holds their positions and there’s no moving forward.

Solitaire covers the hot topics you might expect from someone of Arnold’s generation – race, gender, technology – and looks at these changes as lines of division, rather than improvements on what came before. Indeed, Dixon Potter is careful not to draw the lines too sharply. There’s a great moment where Arnold notes that the local school has been demolished to build a new ‘centre for learning’, and the modern glass and steel does not age half so well as Victorian brick and slate. Not every change is for the best.

Solitaire creates a portrait of a generation who have watched physical evidence of their past being erased. Arnold unpicks that these changes may seem fast, but they are the response to attitudes that have remained in place (and unquestioned) for centuries.

Vale’s performance as Arnold is exemplary – he gives us a fascinating and moving study of isolation. Dixon Potter invites us to listen, with a script that never feels in a hurry to cast judgement. This monologue, deceptively simple in its structure, feels polished and complete. This is not only a record of an individual, and the views his generation represent. It’s a point in history that is in transit, and we start to share Arnold’s concern – not just in the values that are starting to vanish – but how they will be replaced.

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A fascinating study of isolation

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