Theatre review: Winter Solstice

Gerald Kyd, Marian McLoughlin, Kirsty Besterman and David Beames in Winter Solstice
Gerald Kyd, Marian McLoughlin, Kirsty Besterman and David Beames in Winter Solstice
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WHY are liberals in the west so bad at standing up to fascism? That’s the question posed in Roland Schimmelpfennig’s acclaimed 2013 play Winter Solstice, now at the Traverse in its British premiere production by ATC London and the Orange Tree.

And although we might argue with the premise – Germany’s much-vaunted far-right party AfD actually only won 13 per cent of the vote in last year’s election – Schimmelpfennig makes a brilliant, witty and chilling job of exploring some of the reasons why far-right thinking has been gradually returning to the political mainstream.

Using a powerful mix of Brechtian rehearsal-room distance and hyper-realistic social satire in the style of Ayckbourn or Mike Leigh, Winter Solstice follows the response of a well-off bourgeois German couple, Albert and Bettina, when Bettina’s mother Corinna arrives for Christmas with an elderly gentleman caller, a chap called Rudolph who combines a benign manner with some distinctly unpleasant views, notably about all shades of foreigners.

Albert, an expert in the history of Nazism, soon recognises Rudolph for what he is; but with his marriage in bitter adulterous tatters, and his mother-in-law besotted with the stranger, Albert is just too alone, politically and personally, to act effectively on his convictions.

There’s something slightly too slick about this premise, in Alice Malin’s clever and 
eloquent production; it’s too easy to laugh at these “relatable” bourgeois types, too difficult to map the path we need, from cleverly-observed helplessness to worthwhile resistance.

There’s no faulting Malin’s fine cast, though; and with Felix Hayes in terrific form as the clever and compromised Albert, and Marian McLoughlin acting up a storm as the wickedly complicit Corinna, Winter Solstice makes for a riveting two hours of theatre, for those minded to look beyond its satirical surface to the troubling questions beneath.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Final performances today