By Sabrina Steuer
Sounds of Solstice was an ambitious play – attempting to mix song, interpretive dance, physical theatre and acting – without managing to tie all of these aspects together. An original, devised story presented by Wrong Tree productions, the play revolved around (to my somewhat limited understanding) a Norse goddess and her role in the changing of the seasons, as aided by a human man and her two helpers. Its unique format, with a five piece band providing musical accompaniment, and its sometimes jarring mix between musical and play, it felt disjointed at times, something which was slightly ameliorated by the mystery of the setting. Nevertheless, although the play had some standout moments, it failed to bring these together with an overarching story.
It is only fair to start a review for an unfinished production with a disclaimer that goes a way to explaining the faults of the play. With one of the main characters (Lucy Nicholson) breaking her leg shortly before the play’s premiere, the story-line had to be seriously altered, as explained by one of the creators after the performance. Furthermore, rumours of one of the cast members being kicked out, meant that the play lost yet another character. This, therefore, meant the play we saw was not the one originally conceived and explains why this production was sometimes confusing, and often felt disjointed.
However, one of the benefits of the small cast was that it allowed for some of the characters to truly shine. The Queen of the Seasons (Anaïs Dahl) made for a commanding and imperious character, delivering her lines excellently. When coupled with her beautiful alto, and her brilliant makeup and costume, she made for a truly compelling character who managed to convey the feeling of the setting. Furthermore, Athena Tzalllas was brilliant as her aide, managing to toe the line between creepy and captivating very convincingly. The musicians as well must be applauded for their talent, and their range of instruments, from banjo, to violin, to voice made for a compelling score which matched the feeling of the play.
However, the dialogue between the characters sometimes felt disjointed. In the first interaction between the Queen of Season’s and Henry Fell’s character, it felt more as if we were watching two characters recite lines, rather than taking part in a dialogue. The lack of reacting to what other characters were saying or doing in the play was sorely felt. Ironically, this was not the case for the musicians, who provided a light comedic touch by reacting to the characters and sort of breaking the fourth wall. This worked wonderfully in Henry Gould’s and Athena Tzallas’ story circle, where one of the musicians tried to join in and tell a story, and was promptly stopped by the other musicians, which drew some laughs from the audience.
Structurally, Sounds of Solstice struggled to draw a balance between its musical compositions and role as a play. With almost a ‘sketch-like’ quality, it shifted from scene to scene without much apparent linkage, leaving it up to the audience to decipher exactly what was going on. Starting off with a brilliant rendition of The Hanging Tree (something which was also successfully reprised for the ending, giving the play a circular feeling) the play showed that it had the capacity to impress, however, there were lulls between these moments.
Overall, the standout aspect of the play was its physicality. In the opening scene, Henry Fell’s character was grabbing the legs of the audience, and throughout the play, the characters walked mere inches from our seats, showing the actors’ resourcefulness in making the best of such a small space. The choreography was impressive, with the opening and closing scenes standing out in my mind, especially the scenes where the Queen’s aides danced with Henry Fell’s character. This matched the mysterious, ancient Norse setting, helping give it a raw edge which matched the themes of death and human sacrifice of the play.
Overall, watching Sounds of Solstice felt like watching a pitch for a play, however, it was a pitch I would be very excited to see come to fruition. The mix of musical compositions and the story-line, executed better, could prove itself to be extremely engaging. Despite the lack of coherence between acts, the acts themselves showed much promise, and it is clear there is a lot of talent in the cast. Despite many setbacks, the cast continued to believe in the play and refused to cancel it, a testament of their commitment to the production. As the group moves to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I wish them luck, and hope they manage to tie their loose ends to give the individual moments the structure they deserve to truly shine.
‘Sounds of Solstice’ will be performed in the Durham Festival of the Arts’ Black Box in Vane Tempest, Durham Student Union from Friday 16th June until Saturday 17th June at 17:30. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Wrong Tree Theatre