10 May 2011

Autumn and Winter at the Orange Tree

Autumn and Winter is just the sort of play that the Orange Tree delights in doing and in doing well. It's foreign, modern and meaty.

A family of four, a retired couple and their two daughters, gather round the family table for a meal, a lot of drink and some brutally honest conversation.

The catalyst for this is the younger daughter (38) who wants to explore feeling she has that something is wrong somewhere, She does not fit. Her interrogation swings between abusive and loving and quickly draws in her outwardly successful older sister, her somewhat pathetic doctor father and her matriarchal mother.

As the conversation gains its own momentum, fuel by the drink and years of things unspoken and unasked, we learn a lot more about each of them. There are several surprises along the way for all of them.

My fly-on-the-wall vantage point for this drama was almost exactly where this promotional photo was taken from demonstrating the intimacy that the Orange Tree brings to this sort of drama.

And while this was essentially a dinner table conversation a lot of natural devices were used to keep the cast moving and, like good ice dancers, they made full use of the stage and of the steps in to it. This was a refreshing contrast to the overly static Mary Broome that I was critical of in this respect last month.

Autumn and Winter, like the not dissimilar In a Forest Dark and Deep, is delivered in one sitting to maintain the drama and tension. Obviously this is more realistic and is to be welcomed for that but it does mean one less Becks in the evening.

The family conversation is genuinely interesting and, more or less, flows naturally but I did find the opening and the closing a little artificial. We are watching a slice of a family's life and there is not an obvious start or end point. A little messy but I can live with that.

As these messy conversations develop and we find out more about each of the family members the picture gets gloomier and most of the things we discover are nasty rather than nice. There is unhappiness in each of them.

Unusually the acting was a little below par, but then I am not used to going so early in a play's run. The prompter was called in to action and there were some fluffed lines but normal conversation is full of mistakes so these were easily hidden.

Autumn and Winter is not a great play but is good enough and it does play in to the Orange Tree's strengths which makes for a passable night out.

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