21 July 2012

Mottled Lines at the Orange Tree

Mottled Lines closed the season at the Orange Tree Theatre with a real high.

It emerged from the theatre's school for young writers and was conceived as a response to The Conspirators that opened the season.

There we saw a group of hapless conspirators at the top of the power tree trying to retain power after a revolution and now we see the view from the bottom following the London Riots. And a bit of David Cameron too.

The play is a series of monologues delivered by five characters, these are a young girl with no hope, a young man who is the definition of street-wise, an experienced copper who supports West Ham, a professional who acts like a Lib Dem Councillor and the afore-mentioned politician who sounded and looked too like Cameron for that to be a coincidence.

The characters take it in turns to speak to us, and they do speak directly to us. We are their audience, not each other. They speak at some length each time and they each get two or three turns to make their points.

To make this a play rather than a reading the characters are all busy moving around the stage as they talk. The play was conceived at the Orange Tree and has been composed for staging in the round.

The plain white stage is bare but for a series of blocks that the players step on and sit on. That's enough movement to keep the eyes engaged while the ears are busy.

What keeps the ears busy is five different perspectives on living in the world that spawned the riots.

The young girl clings to her pretty hair and nails as something that defines her in a world where she has to dodge bullets. The young man understands how his world works and is comfortable with that despite seeing the flaws and the conflicts.

The policeman is angry at how policing and society have changed and lays a lot of blame on the powers that be who have lost any contact that they ever had with the street. The professional spouts Coalition nonsense as if he believes it, i.e. the lazy good for nothings need to get jobs. The politician is David Cameron - enough said.

The language is a curious and effective mix of authentic street, this is written by a young man, Archie W Maddocks, who described his school as "a bit ghetto", and the extreme literate, Archie has a degree in Literature.

Archie is also a fan of Shakespeare and it shows, in a good way. The prose of all the characters is lyrical and eloquent (far above what most of them would use in real life) and is rich with metaphors.

There is no story as such, or rather it is a collection of separate stories, that are told over an hour and a half with no break. The play ends when one of the stories ends but the others are left unfinished, just as in real life.

After the play there was a meet the creatives session that most of the audience stayed for. Most of the questions were about the construction of the play rather than its content, which was probably for the best as there are no easy answers to the riots.

I joined in the discussion a couple of times with questions and comments on the language of the play and then on the audience that it attracted. I suggested that the Orange Tree do more plays like this as I was uncomfortable at often being about the youngest person in the room at 55 years old. This was echoed by somebody else who said that their son called the Orange Tree "the old people's theatre", much to his embarrassment as he was sitting next to them at the time!

Mottled Lines was another wonderful evening at the Orange Tree made all the better by the challenging subject and the chance to talk to the author afterwards. More like this please.

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