14 March 2013

The Man Who Pays the Piper at the Orange Tree

I do not have the time, or enough interest, to do it myself but I would quite like to see a chart of when plays performed at the Orange Tree Theatre were written. I suspect that the year that The Man Who Pays The Piper was written,1931, would be pretty close to the centre of that chart.

If there was another chart of where I sit then the front row opposite the entrance would be the clear winner but somebody beat me to it this time so I had to settle on a front seat on the opposite bench. The view is just as good from there but I like my traditions.

The play was (almost) contemporary which makes it period now, and that is some of its charm. What was seen at the time as a shocking view of women working in powerful jobs is now seen as a quaint reminder that women have not always been as liberated as they are now.

The story has three parts with three different people paying the piper. First a true patriarch provides for all his family and expects obedience in return, on his death his eldest daughter, she with the job, takes over and finally she gets married and her husband takes on the mantle.

Most of the play concentrates on the middle period and examines the immediate post-war period when women had to rise to fill the positions left by a generation of men killed on the battlefields. We see the consequences of this from several angles including the successful woman, her mother, her younger siblings and their friends, her boyfriend and her mother's new husband.

Most of these people seem quite happy to have an alternative bread-winner in the house and the exception is the woman herself who feels that the need to keep such an large family imposes on her life, in particular it makes her reluctant to get married.

The story develops logically, twists nicely a couple of times and (literally) ends on a question mark.

The substance of the play comes from the multiple relationships and the strength of this production is the cast that teased the most out of the myriad characters and their interactions.

There is much to appreciate about the acting and I'll be unfair and just mention a couple that I particularly liked. Stuart Fox, an Orange Tree stalwart, plays the step-father as an honest, simplistic and likable chap who knows he's lucky to be kept and is not embarrassed by that. Jennifer Higham, also an Orange Tree regular, was delightful as one of the daughters who gleefully helped to organise the house while her elder sister was out earning money.

The Man Who Pays The Piper is (another) play that fits comfortably in to the Orange Tree repertoire, possibly a little too comfortably, and the ensemble deliver a vibrant performance that entertains greatly.

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