This is a richly satisfying trip. I only wish I had more energy. In spite of a flu bug I have managed to stay upright to attend the events laid on for us but I don’t have strength to spare for any additions.
Winter Solstice by Roland Schimmelpfennig, a play and playwright both unknown to me, were introduced to us at the Orange Tree Theatre, a small house in Richmond., by a cast of five who joined our group for a discussion after the performance. The production is bizarre: the “stage” (it’s sort of theatre in the square) seems set up for a read-through, the beginning of rehearsal, with rough trestle tables set around by good wheelie chairs and laid with water and paper cups, manuscript pages, odds and sods of stuff that will come to hand arbitrarily as whatever convenient prop needs to be handled. This becomes a challenge when, twice, they have to build a Christmas tree with found objects. Each actor has an assigned role but whoever is handy, it seems, reads the stage directions and the voice of a little girl, daughter of a couple in the play. The company told us they had a little trouble with this; they didn’t settle on who should read what until about four days before the opening when it seemed to sort itself out.
I’ve seen this casual approach to production before; it doesn’t seem to me to add profundity to what the actors are saying. Rather, it relieves the writer of the responsibility for a certain carelessness of expression. I’m old-fashioned; I still believe in the power of the spoken (written) word. Playwrights who upheave the order of events, as David Hare did this years ago now in Plenty, (1978) and others have copied, or who focus more on the set, as Robert Lepage did in Needles and Opium, (2013) or Nick Payne who let balloons and a revolving stage sub for involvement by an uninspired repetitive pair of actors in Constellations, (2012) have not done their homework. I know the plays I mention have won awards and prizes but what choices are there?
Winter Solstice, however, aside from giving the crew a break, is an interesting play with levels of interpretation that surfaced in the lively discussion with the cast. It’s not the first or last play with hidden political meaning. I still remember Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit (1956) and actually saw it twice, once in Manitoba directed by John Hirsch, who was always political in his choices, and once at Stratford, directed, I think, by Jean Gascon. Actually, political sub-text began with the Greeks. I mean, look at Antigone.
So the week is flying by and I’ll still be dealing with this tour after I get home. I might have more time by then, certainly more energy.