The theatre’s first instalment in its Inside/Outside collection of plays contains three new plays coming from different perspectives but work well together.
This new collection of plays designed to reflect on the past year covers themes of loneliness, isolation, connection in different ways to make up for a thoughtful experience – even if the stories and characters could be developed further than the thirty minutes allocated to each one will allow.
Opening proceedings is Deborah Bruce’s Guidesky and I, which follows the story of Diana who is sorting out her recently deceased mother’s house while engaging in a battle for a refund for a cheap looking cat bed she bought for her mother’s cat which is nothing like the one she ordered. Her feelings of guilt, anger, frustration seep through tantalisingly in this monologue in an engaging way as lockdown causes her to feel isolated and trapped within her own thoughts. It is a relatable and thought-provoking piece that features an extremely nuanced performance by Samantha Spiro who grabs the audience’s attention from start to finish.
In stark contrast to this, Joel Tan’s When The Daffodils focuses on the story of Meg who is alone in her flat – only getting visits from her carer Samia. What starts as a light hearted conversation about brussels sprouts and Christmas, turns into a story about wanting to reclaim freedom: Meg (Ishia Bennison) is tired of having to shield and seeing the same four walls, while it becomes increasingly clear that Samia (Jessica Murrain) is tired of having to play by the rules and wants to reclaim her youthful years stolen by the restrictions in place. It takes a strong look at the impact on mental health that lockdown has had on people – for example as Meg questions the year on the calendar that Samia has given her among other little moments of confusion.
It is an understated play that can come across as stilted and awkward in places with the conversation coming across as awkward – but there is a warmth and sympathy at its centre reflected by the well grounded performances from Bennison and Murrain. My main thought is if it was to be developed further than a bit more of a backstory for both characters would certainly help us be drawn into this particular moment in their lives.
The final play in this trio, Ursa Major by Joe White, has a great couple of characters whose backstories have been well developed and who are easy to feel sympathy for. Jay (Fisayo Akinade) and Callisto’s (Sasha Winslow) paths cross outside a supermarket and unexpectedly drawn to each other – despite coming from different backgrounds they have plenty in common as they get to know each other. It is actually the most reassuring play out of the three as Cally proclaims “you’ll be alright” – matching something that we all want and need to hear. The characters are likeable and relatable, while the humour and honesty in the script is really touching. This said, the story needs developing further.
Overall, these three plays all have something to offer and show great potential in capturing the different experiences of the last year – but certainly need developing more to make more of an impact on the audience. But it is wonderful to see the Orange Tree Theatre highlighting new work once more after a year of hardship.
By Emma Clarendon