Tag Archives: Orange Tree Theatre

“While The Sun Shines” at the Orange Tree Theatre

There are plenty of laughs while Paul Miller’s triumphant production of Terence Rattigan’s brilliant comedy lights up the stage. This is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. 

The wartime wedding of Earl Harpeden and Lady Elisabeth becomes a farce when she meets two Allied soldiers who make her think again about getting hitched. The trouble is a question of experience: blasé  Bobbie has been around, while Elisabeth is too innocent for both their good.  

Philip Labey takes the lead as the Earl with an “open boyish manner” balanced by a knowing touch: this toff is nice and not dim. Labey’s is a massive role marked by a generosity to colleagues that benefits all. And Labey has the ability to generate sympathy; for all the flippancy and fun, I wanted the marriage to go ahead. Rebecca Collingwood plays the intended, showing Elisabeth has a mind of her own. Collingwood’s depiction of wide-eyed innocence is funnier than you can imagine – howls of laughter greet the simplest statements. 

Rebecca Collingwood in While the Sun Shines - photo by Ali Wright
Rebecca Collingwood as Lady Elisabeth

Conor Glean is an appealing Lieutenant Mulvaney fresh off the boat from the US of A. The performance is neat and the humour gentle. Michael Lumsden and John Hudson play a bluff Major and a refined butler respectively – both to perfection. If Jordan Mifsúd’s Lieutenant Colbert got more laughs from me, put it down to ‘appy memories of ‘Allo ‘Allo. Mifsúd’s faux-French is a skilled work of genius. 

Sophie Khan Levy in While the Sun Shines - photo by Ali Wright_
Sophie Khan Levy

Really stealing the show is the man-eater and self-confessed trollop Mabel Crum. I wonder if she was Rattigan’s favourite part? Mabel gets laughs even when she’s not on stage. Sophie Khan Levy’s embodiment of this confident and caring character shows how essential the role is in this carefully constructed play. 

It’s Mabel who ends up in charge. Don’t be fooled that she’s continually sent to the kitchen. Prodding male egos in While The Sun Shines shows a subversive touch that has aged well. The distasteful attempts at seduction would have been as off for Rattigan as they are for us, but offence is deflated by how useless the men are! And it isn’t just one couple under the microscope here – it’s the institution of marriage. That Mabel stands aloof from it all makes her a character to cheer. Mabel gets the last laugh. The audience laugh all along. 

Until 8 January 2022 

www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk 

 Photos by Ali Wright

“Shaw Shorts” at the Orange Tree Theatre

Two Bernard Shaw tales of topsy-turvy love affairs – smart, insightful and great fun – make a strong beginning for this Richmond venue’s exciting ‘Recovery’ season.

Directed with precision by Shaw expert Paul Miller, both half-hour pieces poke fun at moralising and pretension, taking a dig at contrarian sophisticates (Shaw even puts in a joke at his own expense). The dense dialogue – impeccably delivered – brims with intelligence and wit.

How He Lied To Her Husband

Dorothea-Myer-Bennett-and-Joe-Bolland-in-SHAW-SHORTS-at-the-Orange-Tree-Theatre
Dorothea Myer-Bennett and Joe Bolland

First up is an almost-affair between a married woman and a young poet that has delightful performances from Dorothea Myer-Bennett and Joe Bolland. “Nothing improper” has happened between Mrs Bompas and Mr Apjohn… and, just as it might, they start to argue.

The arrival of the husband provides a neat twist that Jordan Mifsúd (pictured top), who brings considerable swagger to the “prosaic” Mr Bompas, makes the most of. The dynamic between the trio proves unexpected and builds in humour.

To the detriment of the whole, Shaw is preoccupied with the character of Apjohn, the poet, who makes silly claims to live on a “higher plane” and feels “growing pains” at his loss of Romanticism. Despite Miller’s balanced direction and Bolland’s efforts, the satire and the fin-de-siècle trope of anguished artist, hasn’t aged well.

Overruled

Alex-Bhat-and-Hara-Yannas-in-SHAW-SHORTS-at-the-Orange-Tree-Theatre
Alex Bhat and Hara Cannas

Time has been kinder to the second show, which is funnier as a result. Two couples have holiday romances with each other, then accidentally meet, and even attempt to compromise about continuing their flirtations.

The base for the comedy is strong and the women in the piece stronger. With another superb performance (in a more interesting role) Myers-Bennett is joined by Hara Yannas, who differentiates her sweeter character well.

The men – hopeless in different ways – are funnier still as we get to laugh at their neurosis and (always a hoot) a touch of mid-life crisis. Mifsúd lets his hair down (literally) as a lawyer on the loose, while Alex Bhat has a great time with tongue-twisting lines and convoluted arguments.

All the characters give the impression that the risks of an extra marital affair are more exciting than the sex involved itself… a view Shaw mocks as abstract and downright odd. The comedic tension created is, like the claims made about the danger of an affair, “delicious”. And the delivery from all, marked by a justified confidence, is a real treat. 

Enjoy the plays live or take advantage of the OT ON SCREEN programme (planned for the whole season), which broadcasts this show on 3 and 4 June.

Until 26 June 2021

www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk

Photos by The Other Richard

“Outside” from the Orange Tree Theatre

Following the show titled Inside last month, this companion set of three short plays comes as the Richmond venue’s return to live theatre is announced. Starting with a couple of Bernard Shaw pieces, on the 22nd of May, an exciting year ahead is planned. It’s still a wait but at least this weekend you can show support for the venue online.

Two Billion Beats

First we go outside to a school playground. Sonali Bhattacharyya’s play has two young sisters, Asha and Bettina, discussing bullying and racism. Zainab Hasan and Ashna Rabheru are excellent in the roles. The quality of the writing is indicated by how vividly a teacher, Mrs L., who never appears, is depicted. With plenty of insight, this is a piece that leaves you wanting more. It’s a shame the production ran into technical difficulties towards the end.

Robinah Kironde and Fiston Barek
Robinah Kironde and Fiston Barek

Prodigal

An estranged son in Kalungi Ssebandeke’s play returns to encounter his sister, after his mother’s death, and the action takes place at the door of their family home. The drama arrives quickly and is effective. Expanding the action to a conflict over a life insurance policy has potential. A complex history of immigration is explored sensitively while issues of masculinity are also raised.

I wonder if Fiston Barek’s performance as the titular character might include more sinister touches? We’re told of anger and “a cartoon image of what a man is” but see mostly charm. Opposite him, Robinah Kironde does an excellent job: her character is hurt and frustrated in equal measure with touches of confusion.

Those technical hitches resulted in this piece, wisely, starting again at one point. And I should add that I’ve promptly been given the chance to see the shows again. But as if another reminder were needed, it does make you miss a real-life experience. Even looking at a safety curtain when there is a problem is better than a notice on a screen.

Temi Wilkey at the Orange Tree Theatre Richmond
Temi Wilkey

The Kiss

The evening concludes with a monologue from Zoe Cooper that looks at recent experiences. Getting to know the character of Lou, ably performed by Temi Wilkey, is a treat. Moving out of town, Lou and her partner end up struggling with life under lockdown. Getting to know the neighbours, taking up new hobbies and behaving…a little…strangely are all included. It is possible that The Kiss could be funnier. But Lou’s reassessment of her life and future goals will surely resonate with many. The show is full of detail and admirably low key, like all three pieces it illustrates fine work on the part of director Georgia Green.

Until 17 April 2021

www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk

Photos by Ali Wright

“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