Roland Schimmelpfennig, one of Germany’s most prolific playwrights, wrote Winter Solstice in 2013 in response to the resurgence of the far-Right in some European countries and the backlash against the liberal elite. Ramin Gray’s production, a joint one between the Actors Touring Company and the Orange Tree Theatre, is its English premiere.
What with Brexit and the presidency of Donald Trump, the staging could not be more topical. Fascism is on the rise and Western middle-class democracy is in danger. A grandmother invites a man (Nicholas Le Prevost) she has just met on a train to spend Christmas with her family. The more he talks about a new world order lasting a thousand years, and the more he argues that sometimes people have to be killed if it serves a higher cause, the more unnerving he becomes.
The appeal of Schimmelpfennig is the idiosyncratic way he writes and the clever way the play is staged. The actors are discovered sitting at trestle tables as if they were attending their first read-through. There is a constant commentary on the action. The stage directions are read out; the subtext is spoken. The pleasure is watching the accomplished actors’ witty reactions.
In September 2004 armed Chechen terrorists took 1,100 children, teachers and parents hostage. Carly Wijs’s Us/Them at the National Theatre tells the story of the Beslan siege entirely from the perspective of two primary school children, a boy and a girl.
Her 60-minute production is in no way a documentary; it’s a highly physical and highly theatrical piece, and includes some hearty, raucous (tongue-in-cheek) singing of Russian songs. Gytha Parmentier and Roman Van Houtven, two Flemish actors in their twenties, act in fluent English. Verbally and physically, they are touchingly childlike.
Southwark Playhouse has always been a good place to catch up with musicals you may have missed first time round. Promises, Promises, a witty-sour satire on sexual mores and corporate ethics, based on the film The Apartment, was a big success in New York and London. Burt Bacharach’s music and Michael Bennett’s staging in 1969 gave the sad and bitter cynicism plenty of drive and energy.
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