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Review: Summer Solstice, Union Theatre

During a Summer Solstice event in 2000, Theo (Mel Masry) and Alba (Anya Fedorova) have a meet‑cute doing yoga. Over the next 18 years we spend a few moments with them as they meet annually in a small Italian restaurant. This is narrated by Leon (Tim Dankert), the waiter and then manager of the restaurant, and is complicated by the fact Theo and Alba are both in existing relationships. Unfortunately, Summer Solstice does not actually tackle any of the themes it covers. It doesn’t talk about love, about being apart and about wanting to be together. Instead, each year…

Summary

Rating

Poor

Unfortunately there is no believable relationship or chemistry, and this repetitive Summer Solstice truly feels like the longest day of the year.

User Rating: 2.11 ( 6 votes)

During a Summer Solstice event in 2000, Theo (Mel Masry) and Alba (Anya Fedorova) have a meet‑cute doing yoga. Over the next 18 years we spend a few moments with them as they meet annually in a small Italian restaurant. This is narrated by Leon (Tim Dankert), the waiter and then manager of the restaurant, and is complicated by the fact Theo and Alba are both in existing relationships.

Unfortunately, Summer Solstice does not actually tackle any of the themes it covers. It doesn’t talk about love, about being apart and about wanting to be together. Instead, each year is like a stocktake, offering a quick update on the characters’ careers and respective marriages. Disappointingly, there isn’t any believable relationship or chemistry between Alba and Theo.

Dankert’s energy and enthusiasm zips all over the place, but a large part of his role is just redundant. When we’ve just seen a vignette between Theo and Alba we don’t need an immediate recap and repeated invocation to “let’s see” what happens next year. Honestly, cut the narrator role right now and you gain considerably more than you lose.

There are some good and amusing moments, but most of these are between Theo and Leon, and I found myself wondering if they were improvised. The two are funny together: there are gags about food being ordered the previous year just arriving, and there is a natural comedy and chemistry here which unfortunately is the most we see on stage. At the interval, we were speculating that maybe they were having a bit of extra fun, a last night of the run vibe? Masry comes to life much more during these small moments, contrasting with Fedorova who is stronger, doing solid work throughout, but hampered by the script.

The writing is clunky and laced with repetition. At one point I’m pretty sure the phrase ‘next year’ was used three times in the same sentence, and one line I took down verbatim was “the year of the 9/11”. Anachronisms abound after 9/11 is used to date a scene. Swine flu does get mentioned later on (but really, was that a thing for most of us here?) and there is talk of iPhones and music, but the dates for these are all over the place. Theo was really impressed by an iPhone in 2012 or so but back in 2001 he was using a smartphone for a scene.

There are several strange technical choices throughout. The audience is regularly placed under bright lights during scene transitions and then we remain under those lights for a noticeable moment before they switch back to the stage mid-scene. The transitions are really long too, sometimes to allow the cast to re-enter from another side of the room and sometimes to allow costume changes, as a year has now passed. The soundtrack is often too loud, as is what I assume is meant to be background music in an Italian restaurant, making the dialogue hard and at times impossible to hear – and I was seated in the second row.

There is a wonderful/terrible (select as appropriate) M&M gag during the second half. It was so groan-worthy that I almost had my head in my hands… but my better half laughed for a full minute. Each to their own!

The premise for the play offers some promise, but this production is sadly disappointing in its execution, largely due to the lack of chemistry between the main characters. Additionally, the unsatisfying, repetitive script means that Summer Solstice truly feels like the longest day of the year.

Written by: Mel Masry
Assistant Director: Ehab. M
Sound by: Aidan Butler
Produced by: Telling Pictures

Summer Solstice has completed its current run.

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About Dave B

Originally from Dublin but having moved around a lot, Dave moved to London, for a second time, in 2018. He works for a charity in the Health and Social Care sector. He has a particular interest in plays with an Irish or New Zealand theme/connection - one of these is easier to find in London than the other! Dave made his (somewhat unwilling) stage debut via audience participation on the day before Covid lockdowns began. He believes the two are unrelated but is keen to ensure no further audience participation... just to be on the safe side.