23 February 2015

Little Light at the Orange Tree Theatre ended well but lacked depth

The new direction at the Orange Tree Theatre is still taking shape but seems to be carrying on the old plan of mixing little known period pieces with band new ones. So after a George Bernard Shaw play from 1892 came something brand new. I kept to my old plan too which is the simple one of seeing everything that the Orange Tree Theatre does.

Unusually I went for a Monday evening and as usual I booked a seat in the front row, A2 for £15 (A1 had been taken). The new regime of having numbered seats meant that there was no incentive to get their early and with my current healthy thinking I was cutting down on drinks a little too so I timed my arrival to go straight to my seat and skipped the bar.

The stage was simple set with a kitchen table and chairs in the centre of the stage. The plastic sheeting around the upper level was different and this was a part of the staging that the new Orange Tree team had been making an effort on.

In to this room walked a youngish couple. Their dialogue was strange and it was clear that something unusual was going on. There were signs of ritual and poetry.

They were soon joined by another couple, the wife's sister and her much older new boyfriend. He was not expected by the couple but had forced himself into the ritual without knowing that there was one let alone what it was about.

The ritual took for hold when everybody was there and we were made fully aware that this is what it was by the repeated use of phrases like, "we always say that". It was also clear that it was not a happy ritual though its purpose was not clear. The older boyfriend swung between bemusement and frustration at being forced to play a role he did not understand or want. Emotions within the group were high and almost engulfed me in my front-row seat.

I was as engaged in the ritual as the new boyfriend was and that was the strength of the play.

Its weakness was the plot. Somewhere very near the end we finally found out what the ritual was about (I was right, it was not happy). It was not that much of a surprise and was not the first (or second) time that theme had been covered at the Orange Tree in recent years. In the context of a first watching the surprise worked well enough but now I know the surprise there was not enough in the rest of the play for me to want to see it again.

I only had to see it once though and that one seeing was fine if not exceptional. The real-time story bobbed along nice and mysteriously to draw us into the ritual and the emotions around it. Joining us as a bemused participant, Paul Hickey was superb as the older boyfriend and his performance gave the show the zest it needed to counterbalance the slow and painful ritual. Hickey looked familiar too which is not surprising as Google suggests that he has been in lots of things.

Little Light was hardly the best thing that the Orange Tree has ever done but it filled its place in the season quite nicely and comfortably did its job of keeping me entertained for the evening.

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