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Winter Solstice

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

For some reason, both The Sound of Music and Mike Leigh spring to mind watching this touring revival of German writer Roland Schimmelpfennig’s play, told via David Tushingham’s deft English translation in co-production between Actors Touring Company and the Orange Tree, Richmond.

If the Christmas Eve dinner party round at Bettina and Albert’s arty liberal des-res recalls the latter, the slow-burning malevolence of a pound-shop fascist called Rudolph quietly cuckooing his way into the nest very much evokes the former. Rudolph was invited by Bettina’s infuriating mother Corrina, and is both unerringly polite and charmingly eccentric. By the end of the night, however, the world has been quietly turned upside down.

This is how the rise of the new right happens, according to Schimmelpfennig; not with a bang, but with an after-dinner Chopin recitation and some carefully loaded references to a new world order, degenerate art and sticking to one’s own kind. As Bettina, Albert, Corina and their insecure painter friend Konrad flail about, they’re either intent on preserving now fractured certainties or else desperate to cling onto the coat-tails of some brand new guru who might give them something to believe in. See Brexit, Trump and anyone who ever took a personality test on Facebook.

Things become even more mind-bending in Alice Malin’s exposed and expansive production. The cast of five walk on in unassuming rehearsal room civvies and sit round a table loaded with disposable coffee cups and packets of sweets that are used as props as the actors play things out with stage directions to the fore. This makes for a fascinating melee of domestic detritus, as Kirsty Besterman’s Bettina and Felix Hayes’ Albert spar their way to becoming willing accomplices to their own destruction while the music marches mournfully on.

The Herald, March 23rd 2018

ends 

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