Winter Solstice – At The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

One long free verse poem - a must for lovers of innovative theatre

Kate Fahy and Milo Twomey

Related link

Winter Solstice runs until 11 February 2017; 1 hour 55 minutes no interval.

Tickets (concessions, standing and under-30s reduced prices)
Orange Tree Theatre

Box Office: 020 8940 3633

Sign up for email newsletters from,,,
, and

With its less-than-hopeful warning about global order, this excitingly innovative play still needed more work prior to its first night, writes Liz Vercoe

Sherlock would love Winter Solstice. He could put his “mind palace” on full throttle, tracking the cross-over lines, the words as clues, the random props as mental stimuli and the puzzle to be solved. The challenge? Is the uninvited guest bringing salvation or a terrible warning of social fracture? The game is on…

Except after 115 minutes of intense concentration of an undoubtedly relevant-to-2017 play (and, to be fair, a few laughs) the game felt a more like hard work. Partly because the production directed by Ramin Gray seemed still gestating.
The play is the work of German writer Roland Schimmelpfennig, translated by David Tushingham.

Nicholas Le Prevost and Dominic Rowan

The cast of five are on stage from the start, each having their character role as well as sharing a narration resembling film-script directions that interrupt conversation between characters, change the time of the event, and alter the way a line is being delivered. Mr Schimmelpfenning’s brain must have hurt writing this. The laughs come from the audience’s recognition of how silly our everyday things can seem when said out loud as a stage direction.

It’s Christmas eve and successful but stressed young couple Bettina (Laura Rogers), a director of esoteric films, and Albert (Dominic Rowan), a writer of apocalyptic academic books, are squabbling, nominally over the arrival of Bettina’s mother Corinna (Kate Fahy) but in reality about their wobbly relationship. Thrust into this uncomfortable mix is immaculately mannered Rudolph (Nicholas LePrevost), a fellow train traveller of Corinna who invited him because she fancies this fellow-60-something and sees the possibility of a roses-round-the-door future. The fifth member of the cast is Milo Twomey, who only later in the play steps into his character Konrad’s shoes, an artist friend of the couple who is love with Bettina.

Milo Twomey, Kate Fahy, Nicholas Le Prevost, Laura Rogers & Dominic Rowan

The comfortable city home is conjured up by set designer Lizzie Clachan with a motley collection of office tables and chairs, sweet wrappers, tissues, a brick, carafes and assorted glasses. Nothing that makes sense or is used for what it is actually intended. In a nursery school it would be called imaginative play. And indeed there’s a truly captivating sequence when Bettina and Konrad conjure up a Christmas tree out of sticky tape and the contents of a wastepaper bin.

With the audience’s imagination on hyper drive it only takes the slipping of otherwise innocent words into urbane, piano-playing Rudolf ‘s conversation to make the hairs rise on the back of your (and clearly Albert’s) neck: “world order”, “a thousand years” , “Chopin was Polish – Polish – who’d have thought…”

So we know what the play is about but less about how it is resolved. Everyone seems to be taken in by Rudolph’s Mr Normality’s arguments except Albert, but then he’s overdosing on tranquillisers so who knows what’s real for him.

The only problem for the play at this stage in its run is that it requires metronomic precision in the exchange of lines to keep its audience enthralled and this wasn’t achieved all the time on press night. Lose the pace and it all feels a bit so what, whereas at its best it’s almost hypnotic. The scene where LePrevost’s Rudolf describes the way musical instruments illustrate a tale of life and death weaves a spell as powerful as Kaa’s “Trust In Me” overture to Mowgli. As a whole, the play is almost one long free verse poem and will undoubtedly become even more impactive as the wrinkles are ironed out. It’s a must for lovers of innovative theatre.

Liz Vercoe

Photographs: Roland Schimmelpfennig

January 20, 2017