WINTER SOLSTICE Review: Schimmelpfennig’s subtle yet radical play offers a timely warning about the deceptive face of extremism


Roland Schimmelpfennig’s radical play WINTER SOLSTICE is a timely warning of how easy it is to be taken in by the deceptive face of extremism

I’ll admit that I hadn’t heard of German dramatist Roland Schimmelpfennig before watching WINTER SOLSTICE its clear to see why he is the most performed playwright in Germany.

Written four years ago in response to the resurgence of the far right across Europe, Schimmelpfennig’s subtle yet radical play WINTER SOLSTICE feels as timely as ever, warning us of just how easy it is to be taken in by the deceptive face of extremism.

WINTER SOLSTICE takes place on Christmas Eve at the home of well-educated writer Albert and his bourgeois wife Bettina. The pair are in the middle of a spat over the arrival of Bettina’s difficult mother Corinna who is coming to stay for the holidays. But it is Corinna’s unexpected companion – Rudolph, a 60-something man who she met on the snow-bound train – who truly sparks up the dramatic crisis. Civilised, polite and full of charm, Rudolph is the model of courtesy until slowly becomes apparent that he isn’t all he seems – he’s also a neo-Nazi.

Inventive, provocative and incredibly transfixing, WINTER SOLSTICE is a razor-sharp comedy about the historic danger of extremism. Translated to English by David Tushingham, this stimulating and inventive drama offers a sharply provocative twist to the traditional family-fraught festivities drama. Spoken dialogue is mixed with voiced stage directions and descriptions of characters’ thoughts, allowing a world of concealed frustrations, desires and anxieties to surface. Lizzie Clachan’s intimate rehearsal-room set design also makes ingenious use of shuffled tables and naturalistic props as order slowly dissolves into chaos.


David Beames delivers a plausible performance as Rudolph, the silver-tongued visitor who is not what he seems. As the first to fall under his spell, Marian McLoughlin is equally strong as Corinna, the imperious and aggrieved grandmother flattered by his old-world chivalry. Elsewhere Kirsty Besterman and Felix Hayes are strong as the quarrelling hosts while Gerald Kyd is excellent as intimate family friend Konrad.

Yet while this witty and ultimately chilling drama entertains for the most part, it feels a little unpolished in others. At just under two hours without a break, the material could also benefit from a little trimming, particularly towards the end when the tension slightly flags.

That said, this is a riveting watch with bitingly sharp humour and a superbly drawn set of flawed characters. The true beauty of WINTER SOLSTICE also lies in its deception. The fact that Rudolph says very little directly about his monstrous beliefs as he charms Corinna, entertains the group by playing Chopin and Bach on the piano and playing with Albert and Bettina’s young daughter,  demonstrates how easy it is for evil to arrive on your doorstep and seem very plausible.

An experimental and insightful piece of modern theatre full of biting satirical humour.

4 out of 5 stars

WINTER SOLSTICE runs at HOME, Manchester until 17 February 2018.