16 May 2015

Each His Own Wilderness at the Orange Tree had one pace and one tone


Even if I did not go to see everything at the Orange Tree automatically I would have been tempted by Each His Own Wilderness as it was written by Doris Lessing who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007. Admittedly she is far more famous for her novels than for her few plays and I had only read one of her novels and I had not enjoyed it that much but, even so, it sounded like the sort of thing that I ought to go and see.

Scheduling theatre is always difficult when my job takes me to places like Reading and Birmingham at short notice and in this case I made the unusual decision to go on a Saturday evening as I knew that I would be around that day as Ham Open Gardens were on that afternoon. That meant that I had the luxury of an evening meal at home before taking the 65 bus that conveniently goes all but door-to-door.

Each His Own Wilderness took us to the late 50's, a time of National Service and much political activity as we emerged from the war and started to face our colonial past. At the core or the story was political activist mother, Myra, and her son, Tony, who had just returned to the family home after his National Service.

The rest of the cast fell neatly in to camps of age and gender. Joining Myra in the old women group was her close friend Milly. The two old men were Myra's ex husband and a long-term admirer of hers. In addition to Tony, the other young man was Myra's campaign assistant and lover, and the only young woman was Myra's ex-husband's fiancé. It all had a very Bohemian feel to it.

The story, such as it was, concerned the forming and breaking of relationships between people and things (i.e. the house Myra and Tony lived in) and this was set against the political ideals for Myra and Milly which Tony was reluctant to take on have just experienced the results of politics first-hand.

It was very emotional story but these emotions were not where you expected to find them. Tony, at the centre of it all, was dead-pan in a Jack Dee sort of way and the young fiancé, who had only just been introduced to the family, as emotional almost to the point of being hysterical. It made no sense.

The play plodded along at one pace with one tone of voice despite all the momentous things happening in it. In once scene three long-term relationships were ended abruptly with little more emotion than switching a TV set off. I am not sure if it was the writing, direction or acting that stifled the emotion, possibly to try and make space for the politics, but it produced something flat and purposeless.

The play was rescued by two fine performances by Clare Holman as Myra and Susannah Harker as Milly who managed to spark individually and even more so when together.

Whatever the idea behind Each His Own Wilderness was it failed to come through and only the leading ladies made it an evening that was not completely wasted.

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