24 March 2016

German Skerries at the Orange Tree Theatre was enjoyable but pointless

I am still going to everything at the Orange Tree Theatre and it is the only theatre which I can say that about so, despite some reservations about the programme, it must be doing something right.

This was a work in London day which gave me the problem of where to eat first and I made the easy if unspectacular choice of the Railway. It was very busy in there but I managed to get a table and my veggie burger arrived in good time; it was quite nice too.

Now that they have moved to allocated seating at the Orange Tree I normally arrive just before the play, preferring to loiter in the pub rather than in the theatre bar, so it was a change to get there in time for a cup of tea before the show. I did not fancy another beer at that time and my intention was to have one during the interval. Only there was not one. A lot of the plays I saw around that time ran for around an hour and a half with no break and German Skerries was one of them.

The allocated seating also made me think a little about where to sit when I had been used to being in the queue early enough to secure a seat on the far bench. When I booked that bench was taken so I went for the middle of the bench immediately on the right as you go in via the main entrance, A31 cost me £20.

The stage was raised a little and it consisted of a simple square of rough ground with the lower part of a shed in one corner. This was a spot of land at industrial Teeside where people came to do some bird spotting (it was not called birding then), some peace and also some courting.

Soon on the stage were two regulars, a young man who worked in a low skilled job at ICI and an old man (59!) who was a teacher. The young man was recently married while the one of the reasons that the old man came to this spot was to get away from his wife. Later we met the young man's wife and, briefly, a friend of the teacher.

The story started gently with the two men watching a large ship being guided into port by a tugboat, passing the dangerous rocks known as the German Skerries. These rocks made other appearances in the story as a resting place for birds, the place where some divers were rescued and as the planned destination for an hot water outflow pipe from the ICI works. But the Skerries were not the point of the play, the small patch of land that formed the stage was. This was were people met, talked, planned and reminisced.

There was one moment of high drama but even then the main action happened off stage and was reported back to the people waiting on this modest patch of land.

The conversations told us something about the people's lives and the time that it was set, the late 70s, before Thatcher removed the large industries from Teeside - even the brands names ICI and British Steel have gone. There were interesting things to hear about but nothing of any real substance. It was a soft dip into other lives and other lifestyles which did not scale any heights because it did not try to.

The character who dominated the drama was the young man's wife, Carol, who was played masterfully by Katie Moore. She was strong and purposeful while the two men were content to let things just happen to them.

I enjoyed German Skerries though I failed to see what the point of it was. There was little to get hold of in the plot or the characters and the interesting parts of the social commentary came more from its now historical setting than from any insights noted at the time.

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