5 July 2013

Unrivalled Landscape at the Orange Tree (interesting)

My one nagging doubt I have about the Orange Tree Theatre is that it tends to be fairly conservative (not too surprising given that it is in Richmond) so I welcome the regular end of season shows where they give opportunities to new directors and writers.

This year's show was a little different. Instead of one of two separate plays there were six interrelated stories that shared five characters and one location.

Andy is a pub circuit comedian who has just come out of jail, Kizzy is a Community Support Officer from Jamacia who has lost her husband and children, Faris is a prince from Bahrain who is troubled by the political situation there, Gary is a park warden and Kate works for the local newspaper but wants to move on to weightier stories.

To tell these stories the Orange Tree used its customary simple sets. This time is was just a box or two that got moved around to different positions to take on different roles.

This picture was taken before the start of the performance (they always are) with just one box on show. Sadly there were not that many people either. It did fill up quite a bit more but that only got it to around half full I'd guess. I have been in less busy theatres many times but it is unusual for the Orange Tree to be that quiet.

The six scenes, or chapters, came across as one play and it took the programme to convince me that they were written by different people. One of these, Archie Maddocks, wrote last year's end of season play, the rather excellent Mottled Lines.

In truth these stories were not as good as that one, nor did I expect them to be as this was a collective work rather than a single vision, but there was enough in each of them and in their connections to sustain my considerable interest.

The dominant moods were frustration and despair peppered with a just a little joy and humour. The characters and their concerns sucked me in and I was keen to learn what happened to them and why.

The stories also gave several perspectives on life today, the way we live, the things that happen to us and how we respond. There was a lot to take in and try to make some sense of.

End of season events like Unrivalled Landscape are never going to be as polished as established plays, and that is some of their charm. This was a good evening at the theatre and I am very glad that the Orange Tree is prepared to experiment like this.

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