As the Archive is exclusively focussing on Barry Kay and his designs, reviews may not be carried in their entirety. Only relevant excerpts are quoted, review contents and context permitting.

Financial Times – first night, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, 28 April 1978

When Solitaire last turned up in the programmes of the Wells Royal Ballet its charms looked thread-bare. It is a very early MacMillan piece, dating from 1956, agreeable and bright with young promise, but its theme of wistful adolescent dreaming was difficult to sustain. Margaret Hill, the original girl who summons up fantasy companions, had a delicate wit; later interpreters (and they were legion) too often indulged in winsomeness, that least attractive of theatrical qualities. On its last showing with SWRB [Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet; ed], I dismissed Solitaire as a ballet that “didn’t work any more”.

But MacMillan and Barry Kay (who has redesigned it), and Lynn Seymour who led the revival performance on Friday night know better. Thanks to their joint efforts – MacMillan freshening the choreography; Kay reasserting its essential identity as a fantasy; Seymour playing it for the sweetest, zaniest comedy – Solitaire is quite rejuvenated. Barry Kay has set the piece under a vast, inflated, clear plastic tree – something after the fashion of that trendy furniture of the 1960s which looked as if it could double as a life-raft. The dreaming heroine is dressed as Degas’ Petite danseuse de quatorze ans; her imaginary playmates are harlequins, in beautiful adaptations of traditional circus-clown dress, frilled, ruffled and ruffed, their faces chalk-white under fantastic perruques – they are just the sort of beings that an imaginative child might invent as partners in her fantasies.

Seymour, looking not a day older than Degas’ petit rat, justifies the ballet. Because she cannot put a sensitive foot wrong in MacMillan’s choreography, her tricks and embroideries on the text are exactly right. It takes a mature artist to be able to present youthfulness on stage as anything more than tedious innocence; Seymour knows how children behave, and can translate that knowledge into dance in a positive act of creation. Entirely magical is the scene following the pas de deux. She gazes into the wings after her erstwhile partner, as Lois Strike bounces into the Polka. The music’s perkiness catches her by the toes; her feet twitch and start to respond to the rhythm, and the mood has been changed with absolute finesse. What an artist, and what a joyous, illuminating performance! […]

Clement Crisp, 2 May 1978

Drawings from Barry Kay’s sketchbook.
Development sequence of the set design from the initial idea to the final model; feltpen on paper, approx. 6 x 10cm ea

Dancing Times – opening night, Big Top, Plymouth, June 1978

The Big Top1 season of Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in Plymouth lasted three weeks (June 26 – July 15), and played to full and enthusiastic houses (if you can call a tent audience a “house”) […]

But the evening’s greatest pleasure was the first ballet – Solitaire. I was fascinated in April-May2 by the new Barry Kay designs for this, and had made the trek to Plymouth to see how they would look with the lighting and stage space available in the Big Top. The difference was much greater than I’d anticipated. There was a black backdrop, which might not be of the designer’s conception3, but which set off the central soap-bubble tree all the more clearly as part of never-never land.

The lighting plot seemed altogether different, beginning by slowly revealing the Girl alone at the front of the stage, and only when the choreography has established that she’s day-dreaming, do lights from within begin to illuminate the fantastic tree behind her. The new conception of the ballet as about a girl’s world of private fantasy, projected much more easily. Because of Boutique4 coming after, I had Edith Sitwell on the brain, and kept remembering her lines of autobiographical poetry: –

I always was a little outside life –
… I loved the shy dreams we could hear and see –
For I was one like dead, like a small ghost
A little cold air wandering and lost.

In the Big Top the fantasy world was far more intriguing with the various colours that the tree took on as her dreams change (especially the glowing amber-red during the romantic pas de deux). When the light goes out on the tree, there was this time a stronger effect of deflation and return to reality. And how touching the final fade to a single spotlight on the girl. I loved the ballet at Sadler’s Wells; but now it had gained in significance and poignancy. This was also due to a first-rate performance, led by Marion Tait.

She had developed her Solitaire interpretation; it’s now a beautifully ingenue reading – thrilled by the romantic pas de deux, huggably gauche in her attempts to join in the Polka, her face constantly lighting up with wonderment at the delights at these various pierrots of her imaginings. I love the whole company in this ballet and in most others – especially on the wide stage of the Big Top. To see such mint-fresh and lively accounts of each ballet, and to see a company radiating such evident enjoyment of dancing, made all the travelling back and forth through night and day infinitely worthwhile. I’d like to see SWRB in Big Top at Battersea, too, for those who can’t make the journey to Plymouth or Cambridge. Several of their ballets look far happier in spaces less cramped than Sadler’s Wells, and it would be good for their London devotees to see them on a more spacious stage.

Alastair Macaulay, co-authored by Mary Clarke, September 1978