Consolation, Bridewell Theatre

Carol (Holly Joyce) moved to a village in Carcassonne to rebuild her life after a devastating divorce and her son had grown up. She is convinced that in a past life, she was a medieval troubadour called Guy in the time of the Cathars. Raymond (Danny Solomon) is an actor working in the second-rate tourist attraction that Carol stalks, and longs for a life in the more exciting London. With a poetic, reflective script by Nick Wood and direction by Natasha Wood, Consolation has riveting moments between these two damaged, conflicting characters as they travel on parallel journeys of self-discovery, but at two and a half hours with a lengthy, slow-burning beginning, the production could use a trim. The slow development and several sub-plots lend a real-life complexity to the story, though the last to be introduced has insufficient expositional time considering its importance to the play’s conclusion. Despite the script’s need for additional development, this is a moving character piece unsentimentally following two individuals as they come to terms with the insubstantiality of their dreams.

By far, the best scenes are between Carol and Raymond. She’s middle-aged and needy; he’s young and cynical. Both struggle to live in the present, instead finding solace in imaginary worlds. Their conflict is charged and spiky; their softening and opening up to each other is rewarding. These scenes are a welcome break from lengthy conversations Carol has with the meditative voice in her head and the languid, but beautiful, projections from Raymond’s workplace and the fantasies in Carol’s head. Also good are the awkward skype conversations between Carol and her theatre technician son Jamie (Tom Grace) and his girlfriend, Laura (Nathalie Barclay). Jamie and Laura are projected onto the ever-present, multi-purposed large screen, further enhancing the discrepancy between Carol and Raymond’s real life in conflict with their fantasies.

There are numerous themes at play here, dreams and ambitions versus reality, and the dreams never fulfilling expectation dominate any others. There is also a nod to mental health issues, living as an immigrant, running away from real life, family loyalty and the politics of domestic terrorism. The latter isn’t exposed until the end after subtle foreshadowing and provides a convenient dénouement, but feels underdeveloped and unneeded. The central focus of the story is Carol and Raymond’s personal journeys, which are captured with nuance and truth by Joyce and Solomon. Their electric confrontations are the bright focal points of Consolation with chemistry that makes this production worth watching, but half an hour of the script could easily go and not be missed.

This is a good offer from Strasbourg’s Theatre Voliere, bridging the gap between UK and continental theatre in an increasingly small world, with human stories that are capable of transcending international boundaries.

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