By Zoë Boothby
Wrong Tree Adventures, Durham Student Theatre’s only devised theatre company, have returned to the Fringe after the success of last year’s Rumpelstiltskin with Solstice, an exploration of seasonal change in a mystical woodland setting. The resulting production is an enchanting piece of accomplished student theatre, which dares to do something different.
While Solstice is not plot-driven, the storyline could certainly do with certain clarifications, as the narrative can prove difficult and confusing to follow at times. At the most basic level, Solstice follows the cycle of the seasons, being driven by its Queen (Anaïs Dahl) and a human she takes captive (Jake Hathaway). The show attempts to blend together acting, music, and dance with varying degrees of success. The centrepiece of this show is undoubtedly the music. The musicians are present on stage alongside the cast, whom they often actually outnumber. Violins, banjo, and voice, amongst other instruments, blend to create a beautiful, mellow sound. The musical accompaniment is haunting and eerie and is so much a part of the performance that the (albeit brief) moments without it feeling like there is something lacking.
That is not to say, however, that the performances were second-rate. Anaïs Dahl especially was impressive as the Queen of the Seasons, with an engaging and intriguing stage presence. Special mention must also go to Lucy Nicholson, whose emotionally intelligent acting was moving and affecting. The most successful moments of the show, when the different elements were most optimally brought together, was in the interpretive dance segments, where clever, innovative ideas drew the best out of the both the actors and musicians.
Unfortunately, the rather austere setting did not match the mythical nature of the show; the cast would have undoubtedly benefitted from a more interesting performance space that would have better potential for suitable stage design. This might have allowed the production to make the experience even more immersive for their audience. Ultimately, however, Solstice is a piece of strange, entrancing theatre. Its ambition certainly pays off, with strong performances and an arresting soundtrack. Although devised student theatre might strike fear in the hearts of some, in the case of Solstice this fear is entirely unwarranted.
Photograph: Anaïs Dahl