Tag Archives: Orange Tree Theatre

While the Sun Shines

While the Sun Shines

★★★★

Orange Tree Theatre

While the Sun Shines

While the Sun Shines

Orange Tree Theatre

Reviewed – 25th November 2021

★★★★

 

“Paul Miller’s direction is most assured in the fast-paced, boot-stamping physical moments”

 

An English sailor, American bombardier and French lieutenant walk into a room. Soon they are sleeping together, playing craps for a Duke’s daughter and arguing for cross-border consensus on that timeless question echoing across dancefloors: what is love. There are plenty of belly laughs, but the unique achievement of this production (a revival from 2019) is in pulling through the real emotional stakes of muddling through relationships in your twenties. Amidst designer Simon Daw’s period design, costumes, hair are characters pleading to know the difference between loving someone and being in love. Sally Rooney eat your heart out.

Philip Labey as the Earl of Harpenden – a wonderfully smarmy Algernon Moncrieff type – is the vehicle for much of this. Where most of writer Terence Rattigan’s characters are comic stocks of military bravado or sheltered naivete, Labey has to run the gamut from diminutive camp drollery to genuine insecurity and back to loving earnestness. He shares a clean sense of comedic timing with Michael Lumsden (his military father in law) and both – with the help of dialect coach Emma Woodvine – have delightfully aristocratic accents down pat.

Conor Glean’s Mid-Atlantic is, unfortunately, not as effective. He has the hulking, rugby-player’s physicality for Lieutenant Mulvaney, but his dialogue proves a stumbling block. He is dealt a tough hand from Rattigan – a script chock-a-block with ‘gee’s ‘darn’s and ‘see ya’s – but Glean’s inflection comes off all too often like Goofy, not an irresistible love-interest. It’s not that When the Sun Shines is exactly a case-study in dramatic realism, but it feels like the accent becomes a distraction: to the audience and Glean himself.

It might not be so obvious if his foil – Jordan Mifsúd’s French lovebird – wasn’t so forcibly funny. His accent isn’t a masterpiece of authenticity either, but he masterfully paints the picture of trembling, white-hot, Parisian passion. It’s a wonderfully idiosyncratic performance, teasing out snickers from the audience even while he forms the background to dialogue he isn’t a part of.

Most importantly, Mifsúd is a key part of the gathering momentum which drives this production home. Paul Miller’s direction is most assured in the fast-paced, boot-stamping physical moments: when the men pile out Harpenden’s room like a clown car, or Mulvaney and Lady Elizabeth Randall (played with burbling naivete by Rebecca Collingwood) drunkenly dance in the living room. There is a general sense of acceleration, checked only by a few moments of romance; these are managed movingly and it is refreshing to see an Intimacy Director, Yarit Dor, on the list of creatives.

Daw’s set is a simple, effective vehicle for these changes of pace: between a drinks cabinet, sofa and table he leaves enough space for Miller to block actors so that the audience never loses sight in the round. Lighting by Mark Doublebay doesn’t have much to do in a sitting room setting, but he squeezes in a charming window effect, which has the stage pooling with sunlight convincingly.

It’s not exactly the radical subversion of gender promised in the programme notes, but it does achieve something unique for a farce. In the intimate Orange Tree Theatre, Miller’s pulls off meaningful relationships between characters who are not all stereotyped and at the same time delivers the frenetic, off-the-walls energy of West End mainstays like One Man, Two Guvnors. The only draw-back to squeezing that much energy into such a space? John Hudson (a quiet star as Harpenden’s butler) literally bounces off a wall as he runs offstage and misses the curtain call with a bloody nose.

 

 

Reviewed by Daniel Shailer

Photography by Ali Wright

 


While the Sun Shines

Orange Tree Theatre until 8th January

 

Other shows reviewed this month:
Abigail’s Party | ★★★★ | Park Theatre | November 2021
Brian and Roger | ★★★★★ | Menier Chocolate Factory | November 2021
Footfalls and Rockaby | ★★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | November 2021
Hedda Gabler | ★★★ | The Maltings Theatre | November 2021
Indecent Proposal | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | November 2021
La Clique | ★★★★★ | Christmas in Leicester Square | November 2021
Le Petit Chaperon Rouge | ★★★★ | The Coronet Theatre | November 2021
Little Women | ★★★★ | Park Theatre | November 2021
Marlowe’s Fate | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | November 2021
Six | ★★★★ | Vaudeville Theatre | November 2021
The Choir of Man | ★★★★★ | Arts Theatre | November 2021
The Good Life | ★★ | Cambridge Arts Theatre | November 2021
The Sugar House | ★★★★ | Finborough Theatre | November 2021
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike | ★★★ | Charing Cross Theatre | November 2021
Blue / Orange | ★★★★★ | Royal & Derngate | November 2021

 

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Rice

Rice

★★★★

Orange Tree Theatre

Rice

Rice

Orange Tree Theatre

Reviewed – 13th October 2021

★★★★

 

“Michele Lee has created great characters and a compelling story”

 

Rice is Michele Lee’s enterprising two hander about women of colour trapped in the heirarchical (and blinkered) world of male dominated business in Australia. It has just opened at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. It’s a co-production between the Orange Tree and the Actors Touring Company, directed by Matthew Xia. Despite the best efforts of all concerned, Rice is a play with a brilliant premise that doesn’t quite meet its promise.

Lee, who is Hmong-Australian, wanted to create a play that gave two actresses of colour a chance to play multiple roles—roles of “versatility and virtuosity and range.” In creating Nisha, (played by Zainab Hasan) an ambitious young executive hoping to rise in the Golden Fields rice company of Melbourne, and pitting her against the older Yvette (Sarah Lam), a cleaner of Chinese ancestry at the same company, Lee creates a situation fraught with cross cultural tensions both within and without these women’s lives. Hasan does not only play Nisha, an Australian of West Bengali ancestry, but shifts into a variety of roles, including Sheree, Yvette’s troubled daughter, and the white (and very privileged) son of David Egan—a man who is threatening her daughter with a prison sentence. Lam takes on an equally dazzling range of roles, including Tom Budd, an executive at Nisha’s company with whom Nisha has a brief and ill-judged affair; Graeme Hartley, a management “guru”, and Gretel Patel—who brings Nisha’s dreams of advancement to a crashing fall during a disastrous business trip to India.

The story of Rice is quite simple: Nisha and Yvette meet in Nisha’s office where she has been working long hours. Nisha is unhappy with Yvette’s refusal to clean her workspace to her liking. Yvette has very definite ideas about what she should be cleaning. But this clash between powerful personalities is about to become irrelevant in company politics—the Golden Fields company has just hired a management “guru” who is slashing and burning every budget he can find. Thrown together in mutual misery in a series of after business hours encounters, the women become friends. They bond over food, naturally—both Yvette’s home cooked Chinese dishes, and Nisha’s concern over her happy go lucky boyfriend’s food truck and his “khaki rolls.”

Two actresses, no matter how experienced or talented—as Lam and Hasan are—cannot quite pull off the range of roles in Rice, although dialect coach Catherine Weate has done sterling work with all the accents. It’s hard for the audience to keep track of all the characters that cross this bright, white stage in ninety five minutes of playing time. It’s to Lee’s credit that she has created such interesting and varied roles—it would be great to see a cast playing each role with a single actor. Similarly, the change of scenes in Rice would benefit from changes of scenery. Changing the lighting (again, even in the talented hands of Bethany Gupwell, the lighting designer) doesn’t quite do it.

A play with such a varied cast and complex settings (the scenes shift from Melbourne, Australia to Delhi, India) is a lot to pull off successfully in a small theatre in the round. The intimacy of the Orange Tree stage should work well in a two hander, but in this case, the set design is unnecessarily cluttered with a desk. This makes playing in the round quite tricky—every time someone sits down at that desk, the space is transformed from four into three sides, and the audience seated on the fourth side behind the desk have to grapple with the backs (or, at best, the profiles) of the performers. This happens too often not to be an unwelcome distraction. But the overwhelming feeling that remains after the conclusion of this production of Rice—is that this might not be a piece for the theatre. Perhaps the story would show to best advantage as an Australian indie film—the kind that has made Australian film making famous.

In Rice, Michele Lee has created great characters and a compelling story. But it needs the right environment to show to best advantage. Put together a bigger cast in the right medium—and this could be a classic.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Helen Murray

 

Rice

Orange Tree Theatre until 13th November

 

Five star reviews this year:
Bad Days And Odd Nights | ★★★★★ | Greenwich Theatre | June 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Breakin’ Convention 2021 | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | July 2021
Cinderella | ★★★★★ | Gillian Lynne Theatre | August 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Overflow | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | August 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
Rainer | ★★★★★ | Arcola Theatre | October 2021
Reunion | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
In My Own Footsteps | ★★★★★ | Book Review | June 2021
Sh!t-Faced Macbeth | ★★★★★ | Leicester Square Theatre | July 2021
Shook | ★★★★★ | Online | February 2021
The Hooley | ★★★★★ | Chiswick House & Gardens | June 2021
Starting Here, Starting Now | ★★★★★ | Waterloo East Theatre | July 2021
Witness For The Prosecution | ★★★★★ | London County Hall | September 2021
Roots | ★★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | October 2021

 

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