11 November 2010

The Company Man at the Orange Tree Theatre

The Orange Tree delivered an intense evening with The Company Man, a new play by Torben Betts.

The Company Man, now retired, is surrounded by his dying wife, her long-term friend Jim, their grown-up daughter who is caring for her mother, and his son who makes a surprise visit looking for refuge and help (i.e. money!).

We are then treated, if treated in the right word, to an in-depth view of the workings of the family, warts and all. We have alcoholism, terminal illness, breakup and infidelity ranged against the joy of children and some hope for the future.

The dark side wins, but it's a close fought thing.

We are told the tale non sequentially and the cast move between the ages seamlessly. The set remains the same and the time changes are achieved simply by great acting.

I have no idea what the playwright was trying to achieve with the play but the theme that I picked-up on the most was opportunities lost and taken.

The Company Man started at the bottom and took his opportunities to rise to the very top. His son threw away the opportunities that his privileged upbringing gave him. His daughter seized the opportunity presented at the end, made possible by her mother taking her own opportunity, having turned one down some years ago.

The play leaps from crisis to crisis (there are some slow bright points, but not many) in a way that is exhausting to watch but exhilarating too and when the climax is reached (and then surpassed) it is with same buzz that you get at the end of a ride at Alton Towers.

The emotional turmoil that swirls and loops menacingly around the stage is made that much thicker, deeper and personal by being served in the round. It's very much like being one of the family with all the discomfort that that brings. The climax I mentioned earlier happened just 1/2 metre from me.

Some recent visits to the Orange Tree have been a little off their normal high standard (despite being well worth going to) but this is a storming return to form. The experience is hard to describe but the memory the evening it will haunt me for a long time, but in a nice way.

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