Julia Brookes reviews...
Upon entering Stage One’s intimate Banham Theatre to see Open Theatre’s production of ‘Solomon and Atlanta’ I was mesmerised by the transformation of the space. Much like writer and director Harry Daisley’s last production ‘The Velvet Veins,’ every care had been taken by the production team in producing this set and I spent the fifteen minutes before the play began taking in each intricate detail. From the ceiling hung a multitude of red envelopes at varying heights conveying an immediate sense of magic and storytelling. At the back of the stage was a screen used throughout for projections and in front a table and chairs. Downstage left there was a living room set up with a sofa, rug and even a typewriter. While downstage right there was a lamp adorned by plants. The greatest attention had been paid to even the smallest details. Letters, records, diaries and other personal artefacts were strewn across the living room while posters were stuck up around the confines of the stage. Even when I thought I’d carefully noticed everything I still picked out new details through the course of the play. The producers Saffy Wehren, Phoebe Sanders and Jan Endresen had outdone themselves here.
The plot was fairly simple, Solomon (Morgan King) writes a letter to his ex-lover, Atlanta (Matthew Dangerfield) asking to meet which spirals Atlanta into reminiscing a long-lost summer to the audience. Set across the 1970s and 80s, the play explores homosexuality, aids and loss of time in its brief one-act form. But what could make for a simple set up of character dialogue Daisley cunningly complicates through the use of the Storyteller (Evan Harris). Although it is unclear whether the Storyteller is an older or younger version of Atlanta, this does not matter. I instead liked to view them as a version of Atlanta stuck in time, a version of what could have been or what was to come. The character facilitates the telling of a summer romance but manages to avoid falling into the trap of becoming functional, instead spouting prose to beautifully contrast the quip dialogue the other characters speak. Strong performances were offered all round from the four-person cast.
As Atlanta, Matthew Dangerfield was witty and dynamic to watch, holding the space with the ease of a true actor. Solomon’s long-awaited arrival on stage was fulfilled by Morgan King simply and effectively. Maddy Swindells switched between roles with clear definition and brought a bumbling energy to the stage which contrasted well with King and Dangerfield. Evan Harris completed this cast with a stillness and presence which was infatuating. On stage throughout and with by far the most lines to recite, Harris did not fall victim to facilitating the story. Coupled with Daisley’s beautiful prose, the way they spoke held a force which was hypnotising. Harris delivered their lines like they weren’t reciting lines at all but rather having a conversation with the audience or writing poetry with their words. Although at moments the production lacked a little pace, clever direction from Daisley, Izzy Bates and Misia Kozanecka meant the play remained charming without being indulgent. Priority was given to the simplicity of the story, and as a by-product the simplicity of youthful romance, at all times. There was a brilliant moment where Dangerfield as Atlanta leant over Harris to reach something, as if they weren’t there and the audience felt the magic of time as a non-linear and intangible measure. Even the care taken to the direction of the opening where Swindells entered the stage and positioned a tablecloth and plant to the haunting riff from American Beauty seeped through as professional and impressive. Whether you are a romantic or not, Solomon and Atlanta is worth the watch. The sold out run in Banham is thoroughly deserved by cast and crew.
Words: Julia Brookes
Photo Credit: Abby Swain