Tag Archives: Deborah Bruce

“Inside” from the Orange Tree Theatre

Joining the list of theatres streaming shows live, this offering from Richmond is a high-quality affair. A better-than-most monologue and two two-handers show three different approaches to stories about the Covid-19 lockdown.

Guidesky and I

This smart script by Deborah Bruce is a superb vehicle for the wonderful Samantha Spiro. Acknowledging how difficult this past year has been, the character of Diana is clearing out her deceased mother’s home and trying not to “unravel” at the same time. With some excellent sound design from Anna Clock, an elegant stream-of-consciousness monologue increases in tension throughout its half-hour duration. It’s clever to make Diana an unappealing character who’s short-tempered, stressed and angry (I’m sure we can all recognise some of this in ourselves of late). A problem with an online order, which holds the piece together admirably, proves startlingly effective and surprisingly moving.

Ishia-Bennison-inside-at-the-orange-tree-theatre
Ishia Bennison

When the Daffodils

Joel Tan’s piece is less successful, although there are strong performances from Ishia Bennison and Jessica Murrain, who do well to hide a mawkish tone. Small pleasures and the importance of the caring profession are handled well enough. But Tan elaborates into a poorly sketched dystopian future where a “consensus” has resulted in older people quite literally imprisoned in their homes. It’s easy to see where the thinking comes from and, although there’s surely a debate to be had around such a topic, Tan’s contrived twists add confusion rather than substance.

Inside-from-the-Orange-Tree-Theatre-credit-Ali-Wright
Fisayo Akinade and Sasha Winslow

Ursa Major

For more big topics highlighted by Covid-19, Joe White has a young man with OCD in conversation with a “houseless” woman. If the backstories about Jay and Callisto aren’t quite convincing, the performances from Fisayo Akinade and Sasha Winslow are fine and the characters themselves likeable. White ticks boxes about lockdown life, and he does it well, with an underlying challenge about “normal interaction” that is sharp. Dark energy provides an impressive and effective metaphor throughout and there’s some welcome humour. Moving away from the theme of lockdown to think about distance more generally (well done!), White even provides a sweet ending.

Outside

For all the shows, the direction from Anna Himali Howard deserves high praise, as respecting the tone of each writer benefits the event overall. United by an “underlying feeling of unease”, at times excessively, it’s no surprise that Inside isn’t cheerful. But each playwright has managed to reflect our times. Maybe things will perk up for the second programme (15-17 April) when the theme, like us, moves away from our homes?

Until 27 March 2021

www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk

Photos by Ali Wright

“PRIDE & Prejudice” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

It’s a brave soul who takes on the task of adapting Pride and Prejudice, one of English literature’s best-loved novels, for the stage. Jane Austen is so famous she might be on a bank note soon, and the fact that this book is a masterpiece has to be – dare we say –universally acknowledged. But Simon Reade’s interpretation of the love lives of the Bennet sisters will please diehard Austen fans, preserving swathes of conversation rather than dumbing them down, while still presenting a light romcom that makes for a hugely entertaining evening.

A few minor characters are casualties of the adaptation (who would have thought you would miss Mr Gardiner?) and the Bennets are denied trips to Brighton and London. The action is concertinaed to satisfying theatrical effect, with an emphasis on laughter. Director Deborah Bruce uses designer Max Jones’ set dynamically (there’s a great scene in the portrait gallery of a palatial home that uses the whole cast). Toward the climax, the revolving stage could be joined by a revolving door to the Bennets’ home – visitors arrive so thick and fast – but the speed of the show employs the sillier aspects of Regency Romance to comic effect.

Ed Birch as Mr Collins
Ed Birch as Mr Collins

The biggest loss, unavoidably, is Austen’s own voice. The task of delivering her irony falls on the cast and the performances reflect Austen’s wit superbly. Rebecca Lacey is wonderful as the foolish Mrs Bennet and Timothy Walker gives a weighty performance as her long-suffering husband. There are strong performances from minor characters, with Jane Asher frozen with imperiousness as Lady Catherine De Bourgh. The Bennet sisters are portrayed convincingly as a family group, and differentiated effectively. Amongst their suitors, Ed Birch almost steals the show, with his crane-like Mr Collins – full of “servility and self-importance” – getting plenty of laughs.

Just as the novel belongs to Elizabeth Bennet, the night is, fittingly, owned by the actress playing her – Jennifer Kirby. Making her professional debut in the show, Kirby takes on the mantle of plenty of people’s favourite heroine with an unaffected charm. My bet is that Kirby was a fan of Elizabeth long before she landed the part, and her performance makes you love this great heroine even more.

Until 20 July 2013

www.openairtheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 26 June 2013 for The London Magazine