29 May 2014

Mixed evening with Squirrels and The After-Dinner Joke at the Orange Tree Theatre

The theatre would not be the theatre if things did not go a little wrong at times and the Orange Tree would not be the Orange Tree if it did not try the unusual.

This year's directors' showcase featured two plays that did not quite work for me, and that had nothing much to do with the direction or the acting.

On first was Squirrels by David Mamet in which an established but struggling writer enlisted the help of a fledgling write as scribe and sounding-board. Most of the story suggestions involved squirrels, for no apparent reason. Occasionally the cleaner would enter to add her comments.

It was all rather weird and while I am a big fan of weird Squirrels never really got anywhere or did anything. If there was a point then I missed it. That is not to say that the play was without merit, the dialogue was crisp and the interaction between the three people was neat. It just lacked a purpose.

In contrast, The After-Dinner Joke by Caryl Churchill had a point but it was all too obvious.

An idealistic young woman left her job and threw herself in to charity work. In a series of short scenes she met many people, played by just four actors, and through them she learned how charity really works and where politics fits in to this.

The play dates from 1978 (when it was broadcast on BBC’s Play for Today) and that may explain much of its simplicity. Perhaps the messages about the compromises that charity has to make were new and shocking then but I felt that I was being force fed a message that I already knew.

What made the play pleasing was the fine cast switching between their multiple roles with speed and ease.

Neither play worked for me but they did not fail either and my slight disappointment with the evening was largely due to comparisons with other evenings at the Orange Tree.

All that said, I am glad that the Orange Tree takes risks like this because the (very) occasional flat evening is a price well worth playing for the more usual excellent ones.

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