Orange Tree Theatre Festival Programme One

Reviewer's Rating

Closer Scrutiny ☆☆

Writer/Director: Adam Barnard

Cast includes: Julian Forsyth, Eleanor Yates and Daniel Bigley/Will Devey (as Ben).

Barnard’s new play opens the programme with a muddle of scientific jargon, rushed

delivery and unconvincing structure.

Set in the living room of an astrophysicist (Forsyth), the play opens with a rushed, uninspiring monologue on dying cells by his daughter (Yates), a molecular biologist. She is visiting with her young son Ben who refuses to talk.

A bland character, Yates seems uncomfortable in the role. She maintains the same facial expression throughout, despite a few jokes about Austrian fruit flies.

Forsyth is funny and somewhat tragic, as the two characters play out their scientific and personal differences on her son. He only seems to remember his illness when the script draws explicit attention it and his final apology feels forced and uncharacteristic.

There are several scenes set outside the narrative, presumably to illustrate what the characters might have done differently had they known how it would all turn out. However, it is unclear what is actually going on here, conceptually.

There are touching moments, such as when Forsyth tries to connect with his grandson through the story of Pluto, but the ending is predictable and the overall experience disappointing.


Duck, Death and the Tulip ☆☆☆☆☆

Original writer: Wolf Erlbruch

Adaptation directors: Andy Brunskill and Jimmy Grimes

Composer: Ben Murray

Cast includes: Ashleigh Cheadle, Tom Kirk, Christopher Staines

This dream-like adaptation, using puppets, of Wolf Erlbruch’s illustrated story is captivating from start to finish.

The play follows the touching relationship between Duck, brilliantly executed by Cheadle, and Death (Kirk), a cute, Burton-esque skeleton in pyjamas.

Narrated by Staines, the performance is slow-paced with little dialogue and a glittering musical score. The minimal props are used creatively: a string at waist height represents the surface of the pond, a table gently rotating shows time passing.

The challenge of performing in the round means the puppeteers, in pyjama-like costumes, sometimes block the puppets from the audience’s view, but this detail doesn’t take away from the elegant performance.

Delicate, subtle characterisation deals with the combined themes of death and empathy with beautiful simplicity. The idea that the pond will be lonely without the duck when she dies has the audience in tears. Elegantly executed, I would go back and watch this over and over again.


Skeletons ☆☆☆

Writer: David Lewis

Director:Alexander Lass

Cast includes: Paul Gilmore, Diana Payan, Amanda Royle and Ben Warwick.

The jokes and skeletons keep on coming out of the closet in this hilarious new family drama. Top marks for a witty script; shame the cast only played up the funny side.

As one character says, the play is a ‘weird union between voyeurism and hypochondria’. Diagnoses from Alzheimer’s to cancer, ACDC to banana-phobia are covered. The pithy script ranges from the serious to the absurd, with hilarious, if unconvincing, results (the banana-phobia is one step too far, in my opinion).

Reunited for his birthday, the family consists of Tom, returning home after a long absence, his mother, jealous sister and a brother who still lives at home, rants about fish, dabbles in astronomy and comes bearing stale birthday food.

The cast clearly revels in the comic aspects of the play, ignoring the more serious elements of religion, grief and illness.

Set in Tom’s bedroom, the performance makes witty use of props which include an urn, birthday hat and teddy bear, to discuss themes of maturation and acceptance.

In spite of a too-sentimental ending, the play rounds off the evening with a good laugh.