[The following contains significant spoilers.]
This is a wicked little play and it skates with great assurance on some decidedly thin ice. In “Solstice,” which is currently playing at the Assembly Roxy, Will (Mark Kydd) travels to the Highlands to help out his pal Gemma (Annabel Logan). He is an amateur contract-killer and she wants to top off her no-good husband. If there is one thing which Will cannot stand it is being called “stupid.” Whilst he does not appear to demonstrate any conspicuous stupidity, we may come to wonder whether something is dancing on his grave whenever the word “stupid” is uttered. This man will be damned by his stupidity.
He looks and behaves like somebody’s dad, with his corny jokes and impersonations of the local accent. He is the salt of the Earth and we will never doubt in his fundamental decency. He must be a bit naïve, for he trusts his embittered old flame enough to travel with her to the remote Highlands. Perhaps he is merely a middle-aged petty criminal who is no longer streetwise – the sort who would drive a van no questions asked and know nothing about drugs. Yet we may still struggle to convince ourselves that this play’s ending is really plausible. How could Will have walked into such a gaping trap? For the same reason that he could apparently fall in love with a fourteen year old girl: his stupidity.
It is looking treacherous that ice. Will became a paedophile simply because he didn’t use his noggin? If we go along with this, we are on the verge of agreeing that it is an easy mistake to make. Morality seems to have been expunged from the scenario, and the paedophile is almost an innocent abroad. “Solstice” unveils a world in which the usual rules have been reversed. In the Highlands the sun shines at midnight and Gemma was scared of the light rather than the dark as a child. This is a world in which the paedophile is naïve and vulnerable, whilst his victim is viciously manipulative.
Indeed, Gemma is so manipulative that we may question whether she was really fourteen when she met Will, or whether she just dreamt it. Post-Savile, as the media jargon goes, this is a flagrant heresy. Gemma’s revenge reflects something of the public outrage which has lately led to elderly celebrities from the seventies being mercilessly humiliated. If you think that Will should pay, this play reasons, then you have to go through with this. We may be reluctant to pity Will’s stupidity and thus condone his evil. We may ultimately wonder whether Gemma is wrong for nursing her wrath: would forgiveness be a more sophisticated response, or just a weaker one?
Gemma is undeniably a victim, and yet she is also realistically evil. She is not elaborately manipulative in the manner of a supervillain – there is a jittery, hare-brained streak running through her machinations. She is also not all there. We may picture her spending years plotting her revenge, only to meet Will again and get along naturally with him, so that they come to interact like an average couple. “Solstice” is so compelling because Gemma’s revenge is grossly disproportionate to her suffering, and in this respect the storyline about her lost child seems to burden her with an extra superfluous motive. Taken as a whole, however, this is a powerful drama. The writers Angela Ness and Glen Davies have accomplished an ambition comparable to that of the thriller writer Gillian Flynn: they have created a fascinating and yet credible female villain.