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Winter Solstice

By Roland Schimmelpfennig

Actors Touring Company & Orange Tree Theatre

HOME, 14 February 2018

David Beames (Rudolph) and Marian McLoughlin (Corinna) in Winter Solstice by Roland Schimmelpfennig presented by Actors Touring Company and Orange Three Theatre. At HOME Manchester, Tue 13 - Sat 17 February 2018. (Photo by Stephen Cummiskey)

David Beames (Rudolph) and Marian McLoughlin (Corinna) in Winter Solstice by Roland Schimmelpfennig. At HOME Manchester, Tue 13 – Sat 17 February 2018. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey

When Corinna (Marian McLoughlin) visits her daughter’s family for the Christmas holidays, she brings along Rudolph (David Beames), a man she had met on the train coming down.

This Rudolph fellow is a bit mad, as you might gather from his name, but here it doesn’t show, at least not at first. He enters a fractious household, an unhappy middle-class family with fashionable foibles. Bettina (Kirsty Besterman) makes obscure, quasi-romantic films and has slowly come to despise Albert (Felix Hayes), her liberal intellectual husband, a fellow who writes obscure, quasi-significant, guilt-laden books. His books have the kind of titles typical of Agamben, Sloterdijk Zizek… You get the picture. We learn that Albert is having an affair, while Bettina may be about to embark on one with Albert’s best friend.

Schimmelpfennig’s play is funny and entertaining, at certain moments excruciating to watch, and this Actors Touring Company & Orange Tree Theatre production is lively and inventive. It does a lot with a little: five actors and a table and myriad knick-knacks (whose sly use suggests that matters here are not as they seem) is all it has going for it, but it is enough. There’s much more to the play than the comedy, mind, and it is not just that Rudolph is an old Nazi, a stand-in for the alt-right and the Neu Reich as represented by AfD and the current Austrian government. His talk of pride and renewal, of a love of mankind (excepting those deemed to be Lebensunwertes Leben) and community (that good old Volksgemeinschaft), shows as much. No, Schimmelpfennig as well casts a critical eye over the (neo) liberal paradigm that has brought the likes of Rudolph into being. He finds it shallow, woeful, wholly inadequate to withstand the juggernaut that is coming at it full pelt.

In truth, I didn’t leave the theatre with any great feeling of Aufgehoben, which was probably the point. Sober disenchantment was the effect of this very satisfying play.

Winter Solstice is at HOME for only a few days more, until 17 February. Details here.