FringeReview UK 2021
Developed by Guy Jones and directed by Anna Himali Howard, designed by Shankho Chauhuri, lit by Jessica Hung Han Yun, with Sound and Composition by Anna Clock. Casting by Sarah Murray.
Company Stage Manager Jenny Skivens, Stage Manager Caoimhe Regan, ASM Lavinia Serban, Costume Supervisor Eleanor Spray, Production manager Stuart Burgess, Deputy Production Manager Lisa Hood
Filmed by The Umbrella Rooms.
Till March 27th. Outside will follow on April 15th-17th.
Orange Tree roar back with six new plays weathered by the feel and fact of lockdown, split over two shows, Inside and a month later Outside. They’re live. And Orange Tree. Catch them.
Developed by Guy Jones and directed by Anna Himali Howard, all three plays respond to a simple chair and other items like a simple rectangle for a door or computer screen, as designed by Shankho Chauhuri, lit by Jessica Hung Han Yun, with Sound and hauntingly memorable piano composition by Anna Clock. Themes of post-lockdown and individual loneliness ameliorated, disturbed, reinforced and interrogated by encounters lockdown brings – deliveries and chance meetings – render this not only of this time but a new way of thinking about relationships Or as W.H. Auden put it, ‘in solitude, for company’.
Deborah Bruce Guidesky and I
The solo Guidesky and I, by Deborah Bruce – whose The Distance was a hit here in 2014 – is a dramatic monologue with Samantha Spiro as Diana.
Diana’s been scammed, attempting to get a refund from a shoddy company. Guidesky 125 is the respondent offering bleak compensation for the wrong and shoddy product. There’s reasons this triggers a disproportionately violent response. Deceit enrages Diana. In lockdown, looking at roadkill, every transaction, every event concatenates. But Diana’s clearing her old family home for her sister’s family who’ve left. She’s tasked with clearing the house.
Spiro – through dark and light in empty rooms – tautens grief and solitude, as Anna Clock’s sound design nudges its chill winds and sheer house-stripped vacuum into the only warm tucks left. Obsessions –lucky family, scamming company, dead animals, form desperate empty triangles. We begin to find the crevices of grief, the reason Diana finds them out.
Long pauses in this monologue, pacings, blackouts eerily etch the effect of a year of lockdown on someone bereaved with no contact. Even rare excursions echo and circle as if towards a black hole. Diana rationalizes emptiness, who Guidesky might in fact be; and moving through her old family home, gains a measure of closure, ‘weathered to absence… loss is a deep pool you can’t just dip your toes in’.
There is though a coup at the end.
Joel Tan When the Daffodils
Joel Tan’s When the Daffodils is a sucker-punch of a two-hander, with Ishia Bennison as housebound Meg, Jessica Murrain as visiting Samia, tagged and hemmed in by service protocols. By Christmas they’ve built up a relationship with Meg; indeed love’s declared.
As she enters Meg obligingly turns of the Christmas Carols out of respect. And Samia has the Brussels sprouts and a present. Meg has mulled wine. They chat about Meg’s girlfriend Lettie, their dog Hester.
Meg’s unable to process the calendar is for next year; has demands even Samia can’t negotiate, tagged by other expectations, anonymous powers. All Meg says she wants is that sunburst of affirmation when the daffodils come. But she’s desperate not to be alone.
Tan catches that touch of the inappropriate people find themselves in. ‘I sometimes wish you were a young man… I feel so horny.’ There’s a breakout dance to break up the suggestion this goes in just one direction. And Meg wants escape.
But this isn’t just one lockdown year. And Samia’s own conflicts escalate in Murrain’s sudden arc of pain – compassion’s drawn her in; now her own time is slowly vanishing.
Murrain bends with expectations thrown at her by Bennison’s swerve-ball of Meg. In a detailed performance Murrain conveys dilemmas how Samia has to know when to sashay out of affection back to underpaid professionalism – for sanity and overly monitored job. A balance of deprivations, slow to arrive, is devastating. Eventually Samia hits on a desperate survival ruse for them both.
Whilst solitude, mental health and lockdown are qualities all too simultaneous, Tan’s play pushes these qualities as an aggressive need, unappeasable, hungry, fell and anguished.
Joe White Ursa Majo
Joe White, whose debut Mayfly was at the OT brings another duologue with another older woman and visor, in Ursa Major. Motifs of distance and its sudden collapse thread the play.
A young man after breakup with his wife is ejected from a self-service till, encounters a woman living in a tent. She buys their food with his money; they use his microwave for hot food.
Fisayo Akinde’s OCD Jay s a UCL astronomical research fellow pursuing dark matter and dark energy. He’s much taken by Callisto’s name, Jupiter’s second largest moon; indeed it relates to Ursa Major.
They swap their lives’ key moments. Things are unravelling for Jay. Callisto’s beyond all that.
Sasha Winslow’s character is wryly articulate, an ex-dresser from Glyndebourne tent-dwelling with blue hair. Her privilege despite this is palpable, including swearing. ‘I’m lucky not have been born in a war… and white…’ Callisto’s inverting privilege, hence the tent. ‘It’s only people like me who should be on the streets.’ She’s more interested in the distance between people than stars, goading Jay to revelation.
Callisto relates early pregnancy with a man who later encounters a bear (Ursa Major exit pursued by) and her eventual attempts to reach out to a daughter via Facebook, through her son’s efforts. Callisto’s composed with the result. ‘Like flicking a light switch on.’
Sharing plangent truths over his marriage Jay – unlike Callisto -wonders at the howling bear of a gale. There’s a tender moment. ‘Don’t touch the light switch after you’ve turned it out.’
There’s a neat inversion here of any co-dependence we might assume. Like Mayfly, Ursa Major, pace historic bears is a gentle meditation with touching and tough-tender scenes you don’t quite expect. Can their encounter move them on? Akinde’s vulnerability against Winslow’s Zen-like f-words is a beautifully registered duologue.
Like Mayfly too, there’s weather in this play of White’s, where Anna Clock’s soundscape makes of it a shivery space and an envelope of sanctuary
These are in the main gentle plays for a savage time when we’re learning to listen, to reach out and deliver food to those vulnerable in a vivid recall of Mutual Aid, or have it delivered to us. There’s never been a time when co-dependence and silence has reigned like this, and the listening quality of these plays, the attenuation of narrated pain, epiphany for a burst of daffodils has never been such a quiet shouter as now.
They not only fit us, they help us to move on, and become in their modest, unassuming and utterly transcendent way, part of how we learn to.