2 June 2015

buckets at the Orange Tree was funny, thoughtful, tender, provocative and sad

These things always go in phases but my two previous visits to the Orange Tree theatre (for Play Mas and Each His Own Wilderness) had been more disappointing than exciting so I was a little concerned for my next visit to see buckets. I booked it anyway because the Orange Tree will have to do a lot worse than that for me to stop going to everything.

My plan of finding a suitable place to eat close to every theatre that I go to regularly seemed to be working in Richmond with the discovery of the Pig's Ears which did light food quickly and had great beers to go with it. Choosing a beer was the hard part.

Travel was with me this time, after two recent occasions when I ran into the theatre just as the performance was starting, and I escaped from Reading in good time to catch the 17:12 train that got me into Richmond at 18:15 and into the Pig's Ears just before the 18:30 cut-off for the £10 meal deal. My plans do not always work that well and it is great when they do.

From the Pig's Ears to the Orange Tree was a reasonable walk, about 1km, past Richmond Green, giving me some more steps towards my daily target (then 12k) and also a pretty place to walk.

buckets was unusual for the Orange Tree in that it was a shorter play, only eighty minutes, and had no interval. This seems to be an increasingly common format and I had seen it used with many other new plays in the last couple of years. Some plays use intervals to change direction, The Conquering Hero did this brilliantly, but far too many seem to have intervals just because they think it is an expected part of formula and others as an excuse to sell more unnecessary food and drink. If an interval is not needed then I would rather not have one.

Another unusual thing was that the small cast played multiple roles in quick-fire succession with little change in dress to indicate the change. Good actors can make that work, as they did in Radiant Vermin, and they made it work this time.

buckets, I soon learned, got its name from the sort that you kick. It was all about death and dying, though it was nothing like as morbid as that sounds.

In structure it was like the Fast Show with a sequence of quick-fire scenes played by the same people with the main characters appearing several times.

The speed was important as soon as one idea was planted the next thing was happening and there was something new to think about. This approach meant that there many ideas were thrown at us and not all stuck for that long, something like a shotgun rather than a rifle, but what remained was the impression of all the ideas being shot out, a shotgun makes a distinctive noise even when it does not hit you.

Some of the ideas that did stick included some around the things to see/do before you die and whether to tell a terminally ill child that they are dying. These, any many other themes were explored from several angles in different scenes. For example, we met the parents of the terminally ill child first and then the child appeared later to give us her views.

Like the Fast Show, some of the scenes were funny and, unlike the Fast Show, others were thoughtful, tender, provocative and sad.

It needed a good cast to cope with the speed and the variety and they were all good. Sarah Malin stood out for me but that just may have been because I had seen her not that long previously in The Cherry Orchard at the Young Vic.

After the slight disappointments of the two previous plays it was great to see the Orange Tree back on top form with a new, different and exciting play. The sort of play that I was more used to seeing at trendier theatres. It was good to see a packed house too, perhaps there really is an audience for trendy theatre in an old-fashioned town.

It was a strong end to the first season of the new era and I hoped that was a good indication of things that I could expect next season.

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