REVIEW: ExploreTheArch in the mood for winter dreams

House Of Midwinter Thought SUS-180201-141141001
House Of Midwinter Thought SUS-180201-141141001

ExploreTheArch’s current festive show inspired by the words of Virginia Woolf firmly locates Archer Lodge as one of the most exciting destinations on the south coast for theatre.

And audiences are hooked, hungry for the vibrant and innovative work that the company is pioneering at this tucked away venue in St Leonards. The run of The House of Midwinter Thought has now been extended to January 6.

Woolf’s musings in this production, thoughts that dart and tumble, explode and tail off, are interpreted as a series of happenings in mid-air. The experience at times persuaded me that I was floating rather than sitting in a cosy armchair. The fireplace somersaults over the audience’s heads to hang in space, a ghostly mirror to the actual lit fire in the space. Two paper chandeliers descend, lighting the fireplace sufficiently to create an ethereal wall through which the gothic exterior of the outside world is visible beyond.

This ballet of objects accompanied by three musicians and the actor playing Woolf’s narrator certainly repositions midwinter as a reflective time in front of the fire with one’s imagination. Written in 1917, in the midst of the First World War, the source material, short story The Mark on the Wall, swerves from relatively banal musing on the identity of a mark on the wall to disturbing, disrupted images of war with vintage toys and comic scenarios of camp colonels depicted as table lamps with teacup heads.

The welcome to the venue is anything but disquieting, audiences treated to a cosy drawing room foyer dominated not only by the warmth of the fire and the festive green and reds of the holly decoration but a replica of the copper platen press that Virginia Woolf bought in 1917 and used to self publish her short story.

With the grand piano situated in the centre of the venue’s East Room, composer Vladimir Miller exposes the audience to the vibrations of the instruments as well as their sounds playing a second deconstructed grand piano stacked up behind him. The auditorium is divided into two sections treating viewers to simultaneous performances in their own space as well as drawing them together when the larger grand piano is used as a stage. The moment actor Gail Borrow playing Woolf’s narrator climbs on to the piano, a reclaiming of the positioning of female on piano takes place, sexual connotations replaced with a section in the text championing a woman’s mind “the less we honour them (learned men) as our superstitions dwindle and the respect for our mind increases.” It feels like a significant moment in the journey towards gender equality in theatrical performance.

Tickets for the final performances are available online at explorethearch.com/thought and locally from The Bookkeeper Bookshop, 1A Kings Rd, St Leonards on Sea. Tues-Sat 10am-5pm. Cash sales only, no booking fee.

There are a limited number of free children’s tickets for each performance. By Erica Smith.