5 April 2009

The Story of Vasco at the Orange Tree

The current production at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, is the lyrical, amusing and engaging The Story of Vasco.

The play is by Georges Schehadé, a Lebanese poet and dramatist, and is inspired by France's Algerian war in 1957. This production is the premiere of a hitherto unknown version by Ted Hughes.

The lyricism the play is what carries the story for a shade over two hours and the language reminds you at times of Shakespeare (think Tempest) and Peake. Crows are a constant thread being harbingers and witnesses to the unfolding tragedy.

War in general is at the heart of the play as we see both its tragedy (e.g. villages emptied of young men) and its stupidity (e.g. the undercover soldiers disguised unconvincingly as women and trees).

While it was the Algerian war that was the genesis of the play it is made clear that the play is about wars, not a war. One subtle touch that does this is the way that the various soldiers' uniforms get more modern as the play progresses, we start with the flamboyant bright red of the Victorian era, skirt with the grey greatcoats of the Second World War and end with modern camouflage.

The characters play a secondary role to the war itself so the main purpose of the actors is to deliver their poetic lines. As usual the cast is well up to the task and special mention must go to Laura Rees, a romantic gypsy girl, and Richard O’Callaghan her father.

The Story of Vasco is a change of pace and style for the Orange Tree and its a very welcome one. It is because they keep putting on interesting, challenging and entertaining plays that I keep going to the Orange Tree.

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