Where to begin with Théâtre Volière’s Consolation? There’s so much that’s brilliant about this play that it’s difficult to fit it all in to one review. For one thing, I now know a lot more about Catharism than I did 24 hours ago – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Consolation is the story of two lost souls: Carol, who’s fled to the south of France in pursuit of what she believes to be her past life as a Cathar heretic, and Raymond, a re-enactor at the local visitor centre, who spends his days dressed as a knight and trying to explain 13th century French history to American tourists, while dreaming of a future as a real actor in London. When the two meet, the stage is set for a funny, emotional and ultimately uplifting journey, which skilfully juggles centuries-old history and some very contemporary issues.
The plot is at times disjointed, particularly in the first act, as it moves from past to present (featuring some epic sword fights, directed by Dan Styles) but far from being annoying, this only makes it more intriguing. And it all comes together after the interval as, piece by piece, everything begins to make sense, and you finally realise what the story is really about. In post-play discussion, my friend and I realised there were a couple of details that we still didn’t completely understand, but it’s a testament to how good the play is that I’d happily sit through it again – all three hours of it – to figure them out.
Much of the play’s power is in its incredible cast. Danny Solomon is wonderful as Raymond; apart from anything else, it must take stamina to maintain a convincing French accent throughout a three-hour play, particularly during some fairly heated discussions. But it’s not just the accent; he also has buckets of Gallic charm, a fiercely intense gaze and a natural comic talent, all of which make him not just enjoyable but quite irresistible to watch.
And yet he doesn’t outshine his co-star, Holly Joyce, who is simply spellbinding as the complex and damaged Carol. Her facial expressions and body language are spot-on, as from one moment to the next she’s playful, angry, defensive and, at times, so intensely vulnerable and childlike you fear she might just break right in front of you.
The script by Mick and Natasha Wood is perfectly crafted; the story twists and turns, and constantly surprises right up to the end. By the time we get to the interval, we’re left with a multitude of ways the story could develop – but the path it ultimately takes to its conclusion feels like absolutely the right choice, neither too bleak nor too perfect. The dialogue between Carol and Raymond is very natural, and also provides a mischievous insight into the cultural differences between France and Britain.
Speaking of which, the play does feature quite a lot of French, much of it very fast as Raymond takes a series of urgent phone calls – but while this feels slightly frustrating at the time if you don’t speak the language, everything ultimately becomes clear either way. And while I wonder if my experience of the play might have been different had my French been better, I quite enjoyed the continued suspense created by not understanding.
The set by Rūta Irbīte is ingeniously simple, with two large chests and a set of wooden boxes that are constantly rearranged by the actors to create the different locations for the story. Towering above them in the background, a huge projector screen creates an educational, museum-style setting, transporting us to rural France for Carol’s flashbacks, and doubling as a Skype screen for her unsatisfying calls with her son Jamie and his girlfriend (played on camera by Tom Grace and Nathalie Barclay).
Consolation is a complex story, which covers history, mental health, family, language lessons, and a few other things that I won’t mention for fear of spoilers. But at its heart, it’s actually very simple – this is a tale about finding consolation in the most unexpected people and places, and about being able to accept help when it’s offered. And that’s a message we all need to hear, whatever century we live in.
Review by Liz Dyer
Théâtre Volière presents CONSOLATION
From the OFF WEST END AWARD NOMINATED Anglo-French company Théâtre Volière (Poilu and Tommy – Best Production 2014) comes the European Premiere of the tragi-comedy CONSOLATION. The same creative team behind Poilu and Tommy are joining forces once more. Written by Mick wood, Directed by Natasha Wood and Designed by Rūta Irbīte.
Set in Southern France, CONSOLATION is about the relationship between a young French re-enactor, who plays a Cathar knight in a Visitor’s Centre, and a middle-aged Englishwoman who believes she has experienced a past life as a Cathar heretic in thirteenth century Languedoc. Featuring a stunning multi-media design by award-winning young Latvian designer Rūta Irbīte, and thrilling stage combat by Dan Styles, CONSOLATION is a witty, disturbing, and ultimately life-affirming journey in to lost worlds, pseudo-history, and the search for belonging – with a very contemporary twist in its tale!
Holly Joyce as Carol
Danny Solomon as Raymond
Mick Wood – Writer
Natasha Wood – Director
Rūta Irbīte – Designer
Lighting Designer Sherry Coenen
CONSOLATION will run for four weeks at The Bridewell Theatre from 12th August to 4th September.