9 December 2011

Next Time I'll Sing To You at the Orange Tree

After a run of fairly safe plays the Orange Tree did the decent thing and offered us something more challenging with Next Time Ill Sing To You by James Saunders (1963).

Sadly Richmond does not react well to challenging and the Friday evening performance that I went to was poorly attended. That may have been the competing attraction of the Victorian Evening but, as a rule, the Orange Tree audience is on the old side balanced (I'm in my mid-fifties and I usually feel young there) and like safe.

I always feel more comfortable when a theatre audience has a healthy mix of ages, nationalities and genders. The central London theatres generally do well in this respect being able to call upon large numbers of residents, visitors and students and Richmond is a lot more provincial in comparison.

Even more reason to be grateful to the Orange Tree for trying to push the conservative people of Richmond beyond their comfort zones.

Next Time I'll Sing To You makes it's intentions clear from the start when the first two actors on stage make it clear that they know that they are actors in a play following a script.

So we get lines like, "You said that last night" followed by "And you said that."

Lizzie is the exception claiming that she was not there the previous night, that was her twin sister.

This is a humorist view rather than an existentialist one so while themes of existence are explored it is done so with a big smile on its face.

As the play develops so the cast grows and we end up with five characters trying to make sense of the situation they find themselves in.

Or rather most do, one, Meff, treats the whole thing as a joke refusing to participate in the main theme (if there is one). For example, at one point he sits in the corner of the stage and swats pretend flies making exaggerated fly noises as he does so.

Gradually a main theme does emerge and we join one actor's quest to learn more about the character he is playing, the hermit of Great Canfield.

He is helped in this by Rudge, the director, who may not be what he seems. There are suspicions that he may have written the play but he denies this when asked.

Spoiling the party is Dust (a great Gormenghastian name), the cynic, who is, well, very cynical about the quest and the play itself. It may be because I liked his disinterested dead-pan demeanour that I found Brendan Patricks to be the stand-out actor but that is a little unfair as the five roles were very different and all five played their part very well.

Richmond may not have delivered the crowds for this performance but those of thus who chose drama over late night shopping and mulled wine were warmly appreciative of the treat we were served.

Next Time I'll Sing To You is very good theatre aimed at people who love theatre. People like me.

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