Last Friday I was luck enough to be invited to the Press Night for Consolation, a new Anglo-French play by theatre company Théâtre Volière.
The story follows the life of Carol (Holly Joyce), a middle-aged expat, who moved to France to set up a writing retreat following her divorce. Pretty easy to follow, yes? Oh…and there’s one more thing: she also believes she was once a Cathar heretic in 13th century Languedoc, where she is now living. And every Cathar heretic needs a Cathar knight, which is where Raymond (Danny Solomon) comes in! Playing a Cathar knight at the local visitor centre, Raymond dreams of being an actor not an re-enactor, but a dark secret may threaten everything he holds dear. Exploring friendship, fantasy and freedom or rather artistic license of thought, Consolation takes the audience on a journey through time and one woman’s mind, as we relive her past selves.
Mick Wood’s script is brilliant: a disjointed narrative takes the audience on a roller coaster of reveals. Moments of regression allow us to connect with Carol, as we venture back to her previous Cathar life and to pertinent moments of this one too. There are also points at which we revisit previous flashbacks with new information, allowing us to understand them more fully now. Wood’s careful crafting of these moments in time are inspired.
Another strength of this production is the innovative use of multimedia in staging. As the play starts, a giant screen is wheeled out. In its simplest form, it serves as a dividing wall, but in its most ingenius form it serves as backdrop. Videos from the Languedoc visitor centre are projected on to it, and when Carol Skypes her son, his image is projected onto this screen. These scenes are particularly well done in terms of timing, as Joyce speaks and reacts to a something which 1) she can’t see, as it is actually behind her, and 2) is pre-recorded and requires perfect timing on her part. It really reminded me of this scene in Doctor Who, which also shows just how hard it is getting the timing just right:
The only thing which didn’t quite hit the right note was the ‘secret’ which Raymond has. At points in the first half, you know something is off: furtive glances, getting nervous whenever helicopters sound, and intense French conversations on the phone. I don’t speak French,
so I let my funky music do the talking, but you don’t need to to know something isn’t right. The reveal of this comes so suddenly and out of nowhere that it felt like it was done for shock value than anything else. It seems unbelievable, in a play which already treads the line between truth, fiction and fantasy. And more importantly, in a play which at its heart is about Carol, this reveal detracts from her story and comes across as nothing more than a plot device.
Carol is a hard part to play: she’s somewhat of a selfish character, but Joyce makes her wholly sympathetic. The scene in which she remember her prize giving is heartbreaking, and Joyce’s emotional honesty is captivating, completely becoming that younger version of herself through physicality and subtle vocal changes alone. Her scenes as the Cathar heretic were a bit over the top, but comedic back and forth she shares with Solomon are a highlight. Solomon is an impressive leading man: his first monologue as the French knight is utterly commanding, as is his Henry V turn. Most impressive though is his comedic talent: half flirtatious/half bemused, he struts around the stage, and is able to ooze disgust with the mere inflection of certain words: ‘wellness’ and ‘expat’.
Verdict: a strong cast and script triumph in a refreshingly disjointed narrative, which revels in reveals, some more successful than others.
Consolation is playing until the 4th September 2015 at the Bridewell Theatre, St Bride Foundation. For more information and to get tickets, visit the SBF website.