Posts Tagged ‘Orange Tree Theatre’

The Breadwinner, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, April 2013

21 April, 2013

People are trapped by the expectations of society, and it can take a dramatic rupture from convention to move on with your life. This was something Somerset Maugham dealt with in his 1916 novel The Moon and Sixpence, published when he was forty-two, which is precisely the age of Charlie Battle in this play.

Charlie and Alfred, all images Robert Day

Charlie and Alfred, all images Robert Day

Maugham himself, born into a family of distinguished lawyers, opted out of a conventional life when he first decided against a legal career, and then after qualifying as a doctor he abandoned professional life for writing. In this clever play, Charlie is not a lawyer or doctor, but a stockbroker living comfortably with a wife, son and daughter in Golders Green. We also meet his close friend and solicitor named Alfred, who has a wife, son and daughter of similar ages.

Alfred's daughter, Charlie's son

Alfred’s daughter, Charlie’s son

Auriol Smith’s well-directed revival of The Breadwinner has two intervals, and we only meet Charlie just before the first one, having already met the others. They come in various states of vacuity, though they think themselves pretty clever, thoughtful and witty, and all agree that Charlie lacks a sense of humour. In fact, Charlie is the only one who has a sense of humour — the only one who can laugh at himself.

Charlie's wife

Charlie’s wife

Alfred's wife

Alfred’s wife

It all starts with the four callow young people whose naïve ideas that anyone over forty is a dead loss (and it’s a good job so many of them died in the Great War) brought smiles and laughter from the audience. His son Patrick is the worst offender, a clever young man who aims for politics and wants to jump on the Labour bandwagon with no clue about life unsupported by the comforts afforded by a substantial income. But if the young ones are idiotic so are the grown-ups, with Mark Frost and Isla Carter as the bouncy good humoured Alfred and his emotionally too-clever-by-half wife, so sure that they understand what goes on in the minds of others, and Cate Debenham-Taylor so pretty as Charlie’s artistically worthy wife.

You just want someone to put these fools in their places, and Ian Targett as Charlie does it in a cleverly disingenuous way. Three women bounce off him like flies hitting a window pane, and the only person he has any sympathy for is his daughter. Perhaps he will meet her again, but you can see why Targett’s beautifully acted Charlie would be happy to get rid of the rest of them.

Performances of this satisfying production continue until May 18 — for details click here.

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Sauce for the Goose, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, December 2012

22 December, 2012

Just the ticket for the Christmas season, this Feydeau farce is huge fun. The driving force is marital infidelity, real and imagined, and what’s sauce for the goose is …

1.Sauce for the Goose_Orange Tree Theatre_1

M et Mme Pontagnac

Bedroom doors opening, closing, locking and unlocking, … all done in the round — how is it possible? The answer is doorless doors, working very cleverly with noises off, and compared with a farce of that name this is far more enjoyable. There is no tripping over things, no overt clowning, and though the first two acts last nearly two hours they flew by in wonderfully entertaining fashion.

Not what he bargained for

Not what he bargained for

It all starts with bright cheerful music and the world seems so simple, until Lucienne enters pursued by the impossible Monsieur de Pontagnac. Thinking he can have her as she takes revenge on her husband Vatelin, he ends up being the fool of the piece, and rather than getting sauce for the gander, finds his goose to be well and truly cooked. The translation by Peter Meyer has plenty of nice lines and the play on the words dog and hound by Heidi, who spoke bits of perfectly good German in her confused anxiety, was very amusing. Blood-dog for blood-hound, lap-hound for lap-dog, and being dogged into bed came over with spontaneous wit.

She's exhausted him

She’s exhausted him

Act III starts with a cheerful march, perhaps reminding us of the military man Pinchard and his wife who take the bedroom booked by Vatelin, creating utter confusion at the end of Act II. The music, translation, and timing brought this delightful farce to life, with fine acting from the whole cast, including notable performances by Stuart Fox as an engagingly simple husband Vatelin, Beth Cordingly as a prim, proper, determinedly vengeful wife Lucienne, and Damien Matthews as the lover she would gladly embrace if she could manage it.

Someone's in the wrong bed

Someone’s in the wrong bed

I don’t like the dropped trousers and silly moments of some farces, but love Fawlty Towers, which is farce par excellence. The important thing is that the characters play it seriously, as they do in this excellent production by Sam Walters. After all, adultery is a serious business, and Feydeau’s knack for immediately bringing together people who should never meet one another makes for laughter that keeps us riveted from beginning to end.

Performances continue until February 2 — for details click here.

Love’s Comedy, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, November 2012

26 November, 2012

When Ibsen was about 21 he fell in love with Clara Ebbell, an intelligent, spirited girl two years his junior, considered to be the town’s most brilliant young lady. A similar thing happens in this play to the poet Falk and his beloved Svanhild, one of two daughters in a house presided over by Mrs Halm. All the names mean something: Falk refers to the falcon, representing liberty, freedom and victory; Svanhild to a mythological Nordic princess trampled to death by her horses after choosing true love, and Halm refers to a fortified homestead.

Svanhild and Falk, all images Orange Tree/ Robert Day

This is a battle between young love and convention, with Mark Arends giving a razor sharp performance as Falk, ever ready to respond, dispute and pierce the protective skin of others. Can he win Sarah Winter’s dreamily perspicacious Svanhild, who very ably matches his words and mockery?

Julia Watson as Mrs Halm

In the meantime there are other couples to put life in perspective. Svanhild’s sister Anna, beautifully and simply played by Jessica Clark, and the young Lind who has a clear direction to his life … until it changes under pressure from Mrs Halm and others. Those others include Styver, a civil servant and coin of low value, well portrayed by Mark Oosterveen, along with his fiancée the bold, nosey and noisy Miss Jay whose pinched intensity was ably captured by Amy Neilson Smith. And Pastor Strawmand, very engagingly played by Stuart Fox with his mellifluous voice, yet this man of straw cannot stand up to Falk, who metaphorically knocks him over. Can anyone stand up to Falk? Well, there is the wealthy Mr.Guldstad, and one must see this early Ibsen play to find out how things resolve themselves in the second half.

It’s worth every minute of our attention in this riveting production by David Antrobus, aided by Katy Mills’ lovely costumes and powerfully evocative music by Dan Jones. This was complemented by the director’s extra music for lyrics by Don Carleton, who made the excellent translation.

Wonderful imagery in the first part as Falk sees Svanhild as the warm air that will lift the falcon to glorious heights, and she sees herself as a string holding the kite — but the string can always be cut. And in the second half, the pastor’s pleading speech to Falk to remove the boulder that he has suddenly placed in his path was beautifully delivered by Stuart Fox. These performances of an early and relatively unknown Ibsen play are not to be missed.

Performances continue until December 15 — for details click here.

Muswell Hill, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, February 2012

23 February, 2012

Losers. In and out of the kitchen at a dinner party in Muswell Hill, talking about their personal concerns, while the Haiti earthquake stands as a background to keep things in perspective.

Karen, Simon, Jess, Tony/ all photos Robert Day

The losers occasionally lose it, but the hostess Jess, brilliantly portrayed by Jasmine Hyde, is a winner who can keep everything in perspective. And while the losers exhibit their weaknesses, Torben Betts’ play makes us laugh out loud. The text gives the actors space to interact, in a way superbly directed by Sam Walters — this is a play written by an actor, and it flows beautifully.

Katie Hayes enters as the first guest, a tedious chatterbox named Karen in a purple crochet dress, but she is soon sidelined by Dan Starkey as a pint-sized, leftie intellectual conspiracy theorist named Simon, who seems to have answers aplenty until he loses it. He’s lonely and funny and needs a girlfriend, and when he sees a picture of Jess’s younger sister Annie on the fridge he purloins it.

Mat and Annie

She walks in later, gorgeous and confident, until you realise why her big sister has said she is very low on self-esteem. Tala Gouveia gives a perfect representation of this damaged young woman, so very determined to introduce her new sixty-year-old Shakespearean director boyfriend, Tony engagingly played by Timothy Block. She says he’s her fiancé, but he’s not as naïve as some of the others, and our hostess Jess sees through him right away.

Simon, Jess, and Karen

It all starts with Mat, short for Matthew, but spelled like doormat, the engagingly superficial partner for Jess. His charming insecurity was beautifully portrayed by Leon Ockenden. And it ends … well, go and see for yourself. There is love and destruction in the air, along with a mixture of verbal clumsiness and defiant accuracy, and the wit is both spoken and unspoken, as when Simon replaces the picture of Annie that he stole from the fridge.

Six wonderful actors, with superb direction, made for an unmissable evening. Performances continue until March 10 — for details click here.

The Conspirators, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, September 2011

3 September, 2011

In April 1968 Soviet tanks rolled into Vaclav Havel’s home-town of Prague, and in 1971 he wrote this play about the difficulty of replacing a dictatorship without getting something worse. In the meantime, Colonel Gaddafi came to power in Libya, a land once controlled by a colonial power like the fictional country of this drama.

The Colonel, all photos by Robert Day

At the start, the prime minister’s secretary, Stein is held at police headquarters under the Colonel, a brutal and cunning man with a taste for sadism, both sexual and otherwise. Off-stage noises are heard: yelps from the torture room, presumably by Stein, and student demonstrations for his release. The prime minister, a gentleman in tailcoat and top hat, is a serious, ineffective and perplexed man, worried about the treatment of Stein’s medical conditions, and apparently unable to see the underlying plan of havoc presaging a crackdown that will see him out of office. As Stein caves in he gives them whatever wording they want in his confession, but the Colonel laughs at him and asks why he’s lying. No way could he come up with all this stuff on his own. He’s protecting a conspiracy — who are they?

Lucy Tregear as Helga

Yet the title of the play refers to a real group of conspirators, including Lucy Tregear’s charmingly sexy Helga, who enjoys relationships with both David Rintoul’s brilliantly erratic Colonel, and Paul Gilmour’s schlemiel of a Major, who heads the chiefs of staff, and can be persuaded to do anything stronger minds make him think is a good idea. These stronger heads are Helga and Christopher Ravenscroft’s carefully nuanced state prosecutor, Dikl, while comic relief is provided by Kieron Jecchinis as the censor, with his vulgar scoffing of sandwiches, occasional quaffing of brandy, and general stupidity. Other witty moments are a sado-masochistic scene between Helga and the Colonel, producing gasps from some audience members, and Dikl’s incompetent attempts to gain feminine support and sympathy, first from his secretary then from Helga with whom he once had an affair.

The Conspirators

Among the amateurish conspirators not even Helga can control the Colonel, whose forceful rhetoric seems unassailable, “Whom do we serve — the government or the people?” And, “Isn’t it better to protect the law — even if it means breaking it?” This play is surely drawn from Havel’s frustrations at the machinations of third raters whose incompetence leads to a power imposed from outside.

Yet this is neither Czechoslovakia nor Libya, and the Colonel talks of having lived in the jungle fighting the colonial power. The indeterminacy of location is a slight flaw and Havel considered it one of his weakest plays, but Sam Walters’ production does it very proud indeed, and the acting was excellent. Moreover, these performances coincide with rolling dramas going on in Libya and Syria, making this a theatrical experience well worth seeing.

Performances at the Orange Tree continue until October 1 — for details click here.

Reading Hebron, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, February 2011

15 February, 2011

On February 25, 1994 the Jewish festival of Purim fell during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and an Israeli settler named Baruch Goldstein assassinated worshippers in the mosque over the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The significance of the religious holy days is noted in the play, and it’s also worth remarking that while Ramadan is governed by the Islamic calendar, which moves back by about eleven days each year, Purim is dated by the Jewish calendar and is always in March or late February. It does not normally occur during Ramadan. But that is not the only significant aspect of the date, because in 1993 Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo accords on behalf of Israel, and tensions were high. He was assassinated in 1995.

After the 1994 massacre, the Israeli government formed a commission of enquiry to determine whether Goldstein acted alone or with accomplices, and that’s where Jason Sherman starts, and ends, his play. Its main protagonist, however, is a Canadian Jew named Nathan Abramowitz, who is on a personal mission to criticise Israel and recover some self-respect for his own somewhat-lapsed Jewishness. His mother wonders why he won’t bring his sons to the Passover Seder, and won’t he please arrive a little earlier to give her a hand, particularly with so many guests coming!

Abramowitz is confused, manic, and unconsciously angry with aspects of his own life. He goes to Israel, for the first time, and appears before the committee, with his head in the clouds, saying that “Israel is an abstraction”. Is he crazy? Yes, but not dangerous, like Goldstein who was playing out something from ancient Jewish history. It was Purim, explained in the book of Esther. She, whose name is the same as the Babylonian goddess of love, Ishtar, forestalls the planned annihilation of the Jews in Babylonia. Those who read the story will meet Mordecai, whose name is taken from the chief god of Babylon, Marduk. These things are deep with significance, and deeply significant things can lead to murderous actions.

Abramowitz, however, is shallow, though very well played by David Antrobus, ably supported by the rest of the cast: Peter Guinness, Ben Nathan, Amber Agha and Esther Ruth Elliot, playing numerous parts. I particularly liked Ben Nathan, but everyone did well in this intense portrayal of human interactions, directed by Sam Walters. There were some wonderful moments, such as one of Abramowitz’s children saying, “You can feel compassion for people half way around the world, but you can’t feel it for people half way across the room!”

Ben Nathan with David Antrobus as Abramowitz

There is no interval, the action is non-stop, the telephone keeps ringing, but somehow the history comes through, as when Abramowitz’s mother calls him and talks trivialities, but occasionally mentions Hebron: once to say Abraham bought a cave there, again to say the Muslims built a mosque over the cave, and again to mention the massacre. The Passover Seder, with the four sons, also helps in giving a thread through the action, and various well-known people appear at the table, and one of them says to Abramowitz, “You think you’re the wise son, but you’re the son who does not even know how to ask a question”.

This production is well suited to the intimacy of the Orange Tree Theatre, and performances continue until March 12 — for more details click here.

The Promise, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond-on-Thames, February 2010

23 February, 2010

The title of Ben Brown’s new play refers to the promise of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, embodied in the Balfour declaration of 1917. The events leading up to this remarkable document are both political, and personal, and start with a meeting in December 1914 between Chaim Weizmann and British cabinet minister Herbert Samuel. Weizmann was born in Russia, educated at German universities, and at the time of his meeting with Samuel was a British subject working as a Chemistry lecturer at Manchester University. His first hand experience of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe propelled his ardent wish to found a Jewish State, but he expected Samuel, as a comfortably-off Jew to be against the idea. In fact Samuel was sympathetic, but Edwin Montagu, another Jewish cabinet minister, was adamantly against

However, prime minister Herbert Asquith was romantically obsessed with Venetia Stanley, who became Montagu’s wife, after which Montagu lost his seat in Cabinet. By the time he got back into power, helped by the good offices of newspaper magnate Max Beaverbrook, who started an affair with Venetia, there was a national unity government and it was too late to stop the momentum. Balfour was in favour, and the prime minister, now David Lloyd George, saw British control of Palestine as a useful counterbalance to the French, and possibly even the Germans, who were also thinking of promising a Jewish homeland there.

Would events have turned out differently if Montagu had stayed in the cabinet? Who knows, but his claim that it would lead to a rejection of Jews in England was not borne out by future events, nor were Lord Curzon’s claims that the agricultural land was poor and unable to support a larger population.

The designs by Sam Dowson worked well, with several scene shifts, done by the actors themselves. These, along with the romantic and political intrigues, propel the action forward, and Oliver Ford Davies was entirely convincing as Balfour, a man who was nearly 70 at the time of the declaration. This entertaining and informative play is not to be missed, though I understand the present run is almost sold out!