DramaReviewSouth West

Winter Solstice – Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Writer: Roland Schimmerlpfennig

Translator: David Tushingham

Director: Alice Malin

Reviewer: Kelyn Luther

It’s Christmas Eve; all is not calm and the night is far from silent.

Roland Schimmelpfennig’s play is a well-constructed comedy in the vein of Alan Ayckbourn and it’s easy to see why Schimmelpfennig is the most performed playwright in Germany. The farce and domestic squabble translate well into English, although a ‘Mein Kampf’ joke is the self-reflexive humour of a German and Germany’s Nazi past hovers over Albert.

The script calls for as many stage directions as possible to be read; this may explain the set, which appears to be a rehearsal room cluttered with stationary, takeaway coffee cups, bottles of water and a brick- all of which are used as props or sound effects (the click of the lid of a highlighter being a surprisingly effective substitute for a lighter). The only Christmas touches on set are the Christmas designs on the cups. 

The production has a make-shift quality without being pretentious- seeing Albert press a water bottle against his ear in place of a phone highlights the ridiculous comedy- and makes the reading of the stage directions make sense.

It is an enjoyable ensemble cast with every actor adding something to the mix, whether it’s Felix Hayes’ neurotic academic Albert or Marian McLoughlin’s Corinna, Albert’s mother-in-law, whose decision to invite a charming stranger she met on the train that afternoon is a catalyst for marital disagreement.

The play runs for an hour and 50 minutes without an interval, though the actors keep the comedy fast-paced and the set continually reshuffled.

Whilst the set makes sense with prior knowledge that the stage directions are meant to be read, it is initially somewhat jarring and distracting, appearing like a rehearsed reading or a budget saving on set (which considering that the action scenes are short and take place in various rooms throughout the house, would be elaborate for the small space of the Drum’s stage)

Schimmelpfennig’s decision that every line of the play, whether dialogue or stage direction, provides humour in many places, particularly when Bettina (Kirsty Betterman, well-matched with Hayes) feels her resentment towards her mother-in-law’s freeloading attitude bubbling under the surface of politeness because it is the season of goodwill after all. At other times it feels like it adds an unnecessary twenty or thirty minutes to a play which would naturally be seventy to ninety.

Winter Solstice is a conventionally constructed Christmas comedy with unconventional staging (the Christmas trees fashioned out of stationary and green cellotape impressively hold still) and a welcome import from Germany.

Runs until 17 March 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Festivities and feuds

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