views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Bridewell Theatre
19th August 2015


Photography provided by Bridewell Theatre

When British divorcee Carol (Holly Joyce) moves to France, she becomes a regular visitor at the museum where Raymond (Danny Solomon) works, a little piece of his soul dying every time he reenacts local history to a largely unappreciative audience. He's been stuck in the same job for years and this just isn't how he envisaged his big acting career panning out. His costume isn't exactly authentic and his lines are uninspired, however despite this, he's still got plenty of swagger and charm, the misery of his job isn't enough to truly defeat him. This Gallic appeal isn't lost on Carol, who immediately gravitates towards Raymond. There may be ten years between them and they may both be in very different places (and maybe different periods!) with different responsibilities and desires, but Carol and Raymond strike up a sort of friendship, both helping each other and offering companionship.

I'll let you into a petit secret. When Consolation started, there was a little voice in my head raising concerns. However, having seen Théâtre Volière's superb Poilu & Tommy previously, I silenced that worry. Suddenly, I don't quite know when, I realised I'd gone from doubting Consolation to being totally head-over-heels in love with it. Mick Wood's script is incredibly complex. It's hard to describe it in a way which does it justice, but there are lots of different subplots taking you to unexpected places, and then without warning, all tying up together in one gloriously perfect conclusion. There may be parts of Consolation where you're not really sure where Wood is going, but have faith: he certainly is a man with a plan.

Whilst only two actors tread the boards physically, through the medium of video we get to meet Carol's son Jamie (Tom Grace) and his girlfriend Laura (Nathalie Barclay). Their scenes are pre-recorded, with Joyce having to react to those fixed performances. As she chats away on Skype, it's clear Jamie thinks she's mad in the head, has done so for a while, and although Laura is desperately trying not to judge and keep an open mind, you can tell her view isn't too far off his. She's more sympathetic, perhaps viewing Carol as someone with a real mental illness as opposed to a plain oddball. Unfortunately, the fact that she treats Carol with compassion only highlights the broken relationship between the expat and her son, and just how horrifically sad that is.

Unlike the company's production of Pierrot Lunaire, which is running in rep at lunchtimes, Consolation is primarily an English play. Most of the French dialogue is translated or explained - the bits that aren't don't add anything. An overheard private phone call for example has plenty of clauses, but no complete sentences, with the true meaning just as mysterious for those who understand French as it is for those who don't. It's accessible, very much so, and wonderfully done. There are plenty of linguistic jokes in both languages as Raymond shouts at Carol then when corrected mid-rant, pauses to whip out his notebook and jot that subtlety down. Although he's naturally very angry and passionate, it doesn't faze Carol, and so the learning continues even during arguments.

Yes, there is plenty of history to this play, with Carol trying to unravel a so-called past life, but that's a device rather than the core message. You don't have to have any interest in the Cathar Knights to enjoy this, they only serve as background. Don't dismiss this as a "history" play or a "foreign" play, pigeonholing Consolation doesn't work. It's a truly magnificent experience and I use that word carefully, because this is a piece of theatre which will captivate and surprise you, leaving you feeling truly grateful afterwards to have seen it.

As for our protagonists, have a little patience. It doesn't take us long to get the measure of Raymond. Despite his brusque nature - or possible because of it - there's something really appealing about the character. Whilst he may seem like he doesn't care about very much, friends and family are more important than he lets on, and he does have a good heart. Whenever he pushes Carol away, he always apologises without actually saying sorry, his actions proving he does care for her. Carol by contrast is less of an open book. She may be warm and friendly, but she's such a deeply complicated character, we're always learning more about how she ticks and our opinion does change over the course of the play.

The playwright's wife, Natasha Wood, directs this piece. Having only seen her work with her husband before, it's hard to comment on whether it's their close bond in real life which makes her understand his text so well and draw all the right nuances out of the actors, or if it's just down to her being a gifted director. Probably a little from column A and a little from column B. I don't know how she does it, however suffice to say she makes this multifaceted production in its large venue feel intimate and subtle, with the relationships between Carol and all the other protagonists at times beautiful, at others heartbreaking.

You could make an argument for this play to be shorter; technically there are parts which could be tightened up, but frankly, I don't want to leave any sooner than I have to. Spending time with Carol and Raymond is an utter joy. This is no consolation prize to a West End ticket, this is another exceptional piece of work from Théâtre Voliére. Gorgeous, life-affirming and a linguistic treasure.

Consolation opened on 12th August and runs until 4th September 2015 at Bridewell Theatre. (No performances on Saturdays, Sundays, Monday 31st August or Thursday 3rd September 2015.)

Nearest tube station: Blackfriars (Circle, District)

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