FringeReview UK 2018
Three MA graduate directors from St Mary’s present a play in the Orange Tree space. In the second year of Orange Tree’s Directors’ Festival, in this production Evangeline Cullingworth directs, and designer Eleanor Bull fresh from the Linbury Award creates the set lit by Stuart Burgess, with sound by Anna Clock, featuring Sophia Simensky’s costumes. Till July 21st. Transfer TBA.
The Directors’ Festival proves it. After last year’s huge success The Orange Tree Theatre – in Association with St Mary’s University, Twickenham – proves yet again how welcoming it’s being to young audiences, new writing and directorial talent.
Now in its second year, the eight-day Festival promotes three plays (one new), each featured with three new directors and the same design and lighting team – designer Eleanor Bull also fresh from the Linbury Award.
Evangeline Cullingworth directs the revival of Nina Segal’s In the Night Time, a play that came in the estimation of judge Nicholas Wright, second only to the full-length play Utility by Emily Schwend which the Orange Tree gave the UK premiere of only in June. This play too – premiered at the Gate in 2016 – is in the micro-naturalist tradition of much recent /American drama but with a huge phantasmagorical difference.
At fifty minutes and with just a cast of two, In the Night Time’s necessarily a less richly-freighted and more focused drama, where even more depends on the pitch of direction, design and actors Ziggy Heath and Anna Leong Brophy.
Originally American, it works perfectly set as a British drama, even if the American fears of gothic violence seems more quotidian in the UK where we have to live with it.
Ever inventive Eleanor Bull’s set looks simple: a white carpet, and a white cot, noting more. but what explodes out of the cot on a rope-line – working with Stuart Burgess’ light effects – is everything you might expect out of the set (if you saw it) of Katie Johnstone. Anna Clock’s sound starts with a huge baby-wail in the blackout, and an ambient capture of every urban thing including choppers you could wish away when rearing a newly-born. Children’s toys And there’s a green parakeet suspended by Heath that Brophy fires on which does something remarkable. At the end the neat minimal set’s like one of the war-zones – even earthquakes – conjured imaginatively by the couple as fears darken, light flickers, and more than once we’re in blackout.
The narrative, as so often is two voices to audience occasionally and unnervingly facing off at key moments when the actors confront each other. If the premise is anxiety born of causing a child to be born, the storytelling scours the whole backward and abysm of time together as first lovingly, then confrontationally, the couple recall memory planted at first like paper kisses, then paper darts, then seemingly steel ones.
The now seemingly brittle declarations crumble or snap as gendered points of conflict flay across these millennials, themselves captive to the world their elders seem bent on visiting upon them. Segal’s language gets the workout it seems born for: it’s an astonishingly restless knife-circling use of words and the actors crouch, run squat lie and leap into every available – and several unavailable – space in the theatre. Rarely – if ever – can the Orange Tree space have seen such a blast.
Starting from complete adoration, and of their baby daughter, the child’s ceaseless crying frays their attempts at story-telling, and gradually Heath’s tales darkens, appropriating Brophy’s stories and twisting them. It’s a subtle study of what goes wrong in sexual politics when tensions mount, and just one strand laid out but not dwelt on. The fears of global intrusion iterated near the start come in again at the end, as if in the exploding set, your nightmares are all realized.
Heath’s slowly agonized anger contrasts with the hurt, chill and fury Brophy conveys. and Brophy at one moment leaps up onto the Orange Tree Circle balcony, runs around behind the audience there in a complete circuit then descends and makes to do this again. The whole direction is high-energy, the couple circling each other with the most accusing looks, until Heath breaks for a cigarette he’s not touched for years and a can of lager.
The denouement’s worth waiting for and not what you might imagine. This is ultimately a realist piece with gritty naturalism underscoring the fantasies, neither undermining the other. I didn’t see the Gate premiere but this production’s sheer inventiveness, the almost feral truth of the acting and fabulously exploding set surely reinvent something; and land this drama where it should be: in the bleak dark before a bleached-out dawn.