4 April 2014

Invincible at the Orange Tree

Invincible is my sort of play and the Orange Tree is my sort of theatre so this always looked like being a winner. This was a view that was widely shared and I was delighted to hear that the run had sold out.

I am pretty well organised on the Orange Tree, it's my local theatre and I go to absolutely everything there, so I had bought my ticket in good time and saw it well before the end of its run, so ending my run of seeing plays on the last day of their runs.

Invincible was constructed in much the same way as Torben Betts' previous play at the Orange Tree, Muswell Hill. All the action took place in one room and consisted of a series of dialogues as the characters moved in and out of the room, the scenes varied in mood from the funny to horrific, a lot of the humour came from a clash of personalities, the horror came from the characters' histories that were gradually exposed through their conversations, and the story was set against the back-drop of an international situation (Afghanistan in this case).

The premise for the culture clash was simple and understandable. Guardian reading London couple Oliver and Emily are forced by economic circumstances to move to the North. As part of this they want to engage with "real people", people like their new neighbours Alan and Dawn. It's the World Cup and Emily and Oliver's house is the only one in the street not supporting a Flag of St. George.

The humorous clash of personalities came from four distinct and believable characters and four actors who portrayed them convincingly.

The casting of Alan and Dawn was particularly important as he had to be fat and she had to be sexy, and they were. Emily's first comment on Dawn was that she was "virtually naked" whereas she was actually clothed from neck to knees (it did not even have the v-neck shown in the publicity shot below), it was just that it was a figure-hugging dress hugging an attractive figure.

The couples clashed culturally but there was no animosity or malice there and they were able to carry on talking to each other through their differences. This brought more moments of humour, Emily and Alan both painted, she did abstracts with abstract titles and he did cats. Alan's cat was called HMS Invincible, hence the name of the play.

The small talk also teased out details of their pasts that were sometimes dark. There was a particular horror in Oliver and Emily's past that we only learnt the full details of towards the end. Alan and Dawn's open question was why had Dawn married Alan when she could have had any boy/man she wanted. This was a question that Alan himself asked.

Then some things happened that darkened the mood and some of the relationships. They also provided an opportunity and led the play to its ending.

There were a lot of big laughs along the way. The first scene after the interval was inspired and we all laughed out loud when we discovered what Oliver and Emily's big row was over. Later Oliver got a cheer for his uncomplimentary comments about the North. Even the one of the deaths was funny.

Invincible scored over Muswell Hill, in my opinion, in that it made better use of the layout of the Orange Tree and the dark moments were darker. It was a neatly crafted play, superbly presented and, most of all, acted with passion.

Plays this good deserve to sell-out.

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