Reviewed – 31st January 2019
“Despite the linguistic drawbacks, director, Kristine Landon-Smith, produces an inspiring revival”
In the 1950s, France is attempting to mask the emotional and moral effects of the war and return to an appearance of normality. Jean Anouilh’s prolific output, rarely performed today, ranges from drama to farce. ‘The Orchestra’ leans towards what he categorised as his ‘black’ work (as opposed to ‘pink’, ‘brilliant’ or ‘grating’), contrasting with poignant wit the dramatic change the German Occupation had on the country. Here, Anouilh mirrors this with a small café ensemble whose polished performance juxtaposes the smouldering frustrations, rivalry and revelations which seep out between movements, the sugary lightness of the music enhancing the discord. The orchestra represents the female-dominated, close-knit society of the time. Stuck in a dull provincial spa town they repeat over-familiar tunes to an unappreciative audience. But they are also keen to unwrap each other’s secrets and the collaboration question.
Jeremy Sams’ translation brings to life the radiant facade and cutting jealously, even if the language is sometimes somewhat updated, but the setting of time and place in this play is essential to the characters’ behaviour. A culturally diverse cast with varied accents changes the ambience and, moreover, means that it is quite often hard to get past understanding the actual words and we lose the nuances of the script and personalities. Amanda Osbourne as Madame Hortense controls the group with strong authority (if not the voluptuous shape described by Anouilh) as it writhes with uncomfortable truths. The violin ‘desk partners’ reveal their personal domestic realities and there is amusing chitchat between the flautist and the viola player. Even the cellist admits deliberately playing out of tune to German audiences. Pedro Casarin as Monsieur Leon, the pianist, gives the most dramatic about-face but it is the fighting over him by Madame Hortense and Suzanne, the cellist, which culminates in the darkest moment…as the band plays on.
The breezy melodies (Felix Cross) camouflage the searing tensions but the quality of the soundtrack doesn’t do justice to the energy and expression of recorded live music. Learning to mime playing a stringed instrument is a highly commendable feat and Sarah Waddell (the violinist, Pamela), in particular, makes a convincing impression. Despite the linguistic drawbacks, director, Kristine Landon-Smith, produces an inspiring revival of a writer and genre which has long been neglected and captures the forced smile of a period desperate to gloss over the recent past.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Jacob Malinski
Omnibus Theatre until 17th February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: