Fringe Online 2021
Developed by Guy Jones and directed by Georgia Green, designed by Camilla Clarke, lit by Rajiv Pattani, with Sound and Composition by Max Pappenheim. Casting by Sarah Murray.
Company Stage Manager Jenny Skivens, Stage Manager Caoimhe Regan, ASM Lavinia Serban, Costume Supervisor Hayley McCluskey, Production Manager Stuart Burgess, Deputy Production Manager Lisa Hood, Production Eelctrician Chris McDonnell, Production Sound Ollie Dudman.
Filmed by The Umbrella Rooms.
Theatre Environment designed by Simon Daw and Mark Doubleday.
Till April 17th.
After Orange Tree roared back in March with Inside – the first three of six new plays weathered by the feel and fact of lockdown, we’re Outside. They’re live. And Orange Tree. Catch them. In contrast with Inside, these three plays explore life out of confined spaces, during and after lockdown. School, a long-absent son returning from Uganda; a new environment abruptly put on hold during the pandemic – but which blossoms. They’re set outside too – school yard, garden, and back gardens and park.
Developed by Guy Jones and directed this time by Georgia Green, all three plays respond to a simple chair and – its outside this time – other items like a hamster cage and pot plants, as designed here by Camilla Clarke, lit by Rajiv Pattani, with Sound and hauntingly simple composition by Max Pappenheim. 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’.
Two Billion Beats
Confident Asha (Zainab Hasan, looking like Catherine Tait’s schoolgirl) lectures us on peaceful resistance Gandhi style. It’s not quite the hagiography you might expect; Gandhi can use blackmail against some he disapproves. Asha gets 80% but is pulled up for retaliating to racism. For some reason if you’re Asian fighting back endangers your uni chances.
Fifteen and two years younger than her sister, Asha Rabheru’s Bettina is impressed. Still she wants a hamster, but it’s big for a hamster by the pics – Asha’s not impressed. Bettina reflects a hamster’s heartbeats are far quicker than ours, so they die soon: we all get just two billion beats. Prophesy for the rest of her life.
Asha’s got challenges too. Her sister’s being bullied throws her own into relief. Asha’s narration of how she tries to square accounts with Mrs L and her disenchantment is palpable. The way liberal values edge into racist undertows – why is Asha equally punished for someone else’s racist slur against her? – render a superb riposte quietly delivered. ‘Are you finished?’ asks Bettina. ‘No. But I am done.’ Hasan’s wonderfully vibrant, mouth and trousers and as her name denotes alive. Rabheru, no stranger to quirky younger sister roles, really engages with the sher quirk of growing up.
This is the kind of coming-of-age play OT do so well, warm but alert to dark adult themes. In Bhattacharyya’s play there’s a wealth of detail with an ambivalence of register that can define adolescence.
Fiston Barek’s smart-suited Kasjja arrives back from Uganda to the London family home. His sister Rita – Robinah Kironde – isn’t impressed. He’s not contacted their family for five years and missed the funeral. Now he comes cockily announcing it was he their mother entrusted with her life insurance – for all five siblings. Isolated and the one who cared for their mother alone over the past year, Rita feels doubly betrayed.
Is Kasjja on any level? His story changes, there’s a history, a spill of photos. And Kasjja’s even changed his accent. An edgy take on long-sundered families, loyalty, trust.
Barek’s a wide-open wide boy, with the smarm in Kasjja proving both warm and someone full of undertow, though we end on a positive. Kironde’s hurt Rita falls through registers of acceptance into the need to love, edged with the photos.
Temi Wilkey’s Lou notices a guinea-pig’s cage. Relocated from London with her wife Year 3 teacher Soph to Soph’s part of Scotland, Lou’s a bit unmeridianed.
She’s spooling back and relating her people-watching through windows in lockdown. Lou’s a song writer. Mairhi her neighbour like others isn’t exactly welcoming, but is keen. And wants favours.
Lou’s really not cutting it. Ever the teacher Soph tasks Lou with energising points, like come on the BLM marches I’m organizing for one. There’s a reason. They’re trying to have a child (so that’s Lou’s job), but of course lockdown defers IVF possibilities. What’s the point?
The point of a kiss though is the crux, and it’s not at all the kind of kiss that usually is. Cooper’s superb on people relocating to unfamiliar often northern environments, as in Out of Water here at the OT in 2019. Perhaps though in this world, it’s Mairhi’s child who springs the most surprises.
Wilkey’s smart aware songwriter uses her temporarily on-hold life and unused antennae to navigate through all the things you might meet in a decidedly non-metropolitan environment. And a few neither Lou, Soph or anyone else could predict.
The longest work here by some way, it’s both more substantially developed though of course a solo performance. Wilkey’s strong with the different voices but also a sense of wonderment and possibilities at the end, that make it like other Cooper work, a thing of exquisite moments: transcendence in a so-so park.
As with Inside, Outside not only fits us, they help us to move on, and become in their modest, unassuming and utterly transcendent way, part of how we learn to.