Poison by Lot Vekemans, Orange Tree Theatre, 18 November 2017

When we booked it, we really liked the sound of this modern Dutch two-hander about loss and relationships.

Poison has been very well received and reviewed, both in its original award-winning Dutch form and in this translation at The Orange Tree.

Excellent cast – it seemed like only a few weeks ago that we’d seen Zumin Varma in the round in West London – directed by the ever-reliable Paul Miller.

Yet for some reason this piece simply did not press our buttons. Perhaps Janie and I had seen this subject matter covered with more power elsewhere. Perhaps the characters came across as rather stiff and cold to us, rather than the bottled-up emotion that (I suspect) was supposed to be portrayed.

It is a short piece and is (as more or less always at the Orange Tree) thoughtfully designed and produced in the round. So don’t necessarily take our word for it.

Here is a link to the Orange Tree resource on this play/production.

Here is a search term that will find you reviews and stuff.

Did we go to Don Fernando to chow down afterwards? You can bet your sweet fabada we did.

German Skerries by Robert Holman, Orange Tree Theatre, 5 March 2016

The questions Daisy and I debated over our Spanish dinner at Don Fernando after this short play were “why?” questions. Primarily, “why on earth did Paul Miller choose to revive this particular play?”

Yes, the Orange Tree rubric  about this play – click here – says that Simon Stephens reveres Robert Holman. Any friend of Simon Stephens blah blah…

…but this play, which won awards and all sorts in the late 1970s, must have either come from a lean year (1977? – I don’t think so) or simply aged badly, as some plays do. It simply didn’t resonate for either of us.

Some of it felt like writing by numbers to me – the birdwatchers spot a cormorant impaling itself on some stray wire, presumably the wire is there because of the industrial activity out by the skerries. “Oh dear”, I thought, “one of the characters is going to cop an industrial injury before the 80 minutes is up.”

Cormorants on Lake Nicaragua skerries
Cormorants on Lake Nicaragua skerries

It didn’t help that I have a slight cold (or do I mean man flu?) on our recent return from Nicaragua – from 30 Centigrade to 30 Fahrenheit overnight is a bit of a shock to the system. I did a pretty good job of stifling the sniffling and coughing, despite the cast members smoking pretty constantly and the smoke machine designed to make the night scenes seem misty being located right by my seat! Thank goodness for the trusty bottle of water when you need it most.

We had other why questions; such as why did the young man stay up by the bird watching hut leaving his young wife to take the injured man to hospital alone? There was a bicycle in the hut which seemed to have been left there for a purpose (perhaps that purpose) but the bike was ignored when crisis struck. Perhaps a change of heart from the writer, left hanging like…

The subject matter had the ability to resonate – ordinary folk in Teeside, caught up in the late 1970s industrial changes and disquiet…but by gosh this is a slow and dull piece. The play had only the faintest echo of the power possible in similar small northern town microscope pieces, such as Stockport by Simon Stephens. Yes, I can see where the influence on Stephens might have come; yes I understand that the industries that were controversially established on Teeside in the 1970s are controversially shutting down now. But 40 years on, leave it to Stephens…or revive a Stephens, don’t try and revive this dated and clumsy piece.

Michael Billington and his good lady were in the house tonight sitting opposite us. Billington is a great supporter of the Orange Tree but I suspect he’ll struggle to give this piece a favourable review – it will be interesting to see what he writes about it.

Daisy struggled to stay awake and was fearful that she might have nodded off while the young man character was bird watching in our direction through his binoculars. I don’t think she nodded off at those particular junctures, nor do I think that Michael Billington nodded off at the times when the binos were pointing his way, although I cannot vouch for the wakefulness of Billington’s whole evening.

We too are long-term supporters of the Orange Tree and think that Paul Miller’s tenure so far has had more rock than a massive outcrop of skerries, but this play missed the mark for us by a long way. We know that financial pressure is a major factor, so these joint productions are doubtless the way. Perhaps this piece will work better in Northern towns (although frankly I doubt it).  But in any case, I’d prefer to see more risk in joint productions – better the odd miss that has given a young writer or an emerging theatre troupe a chance, than a revival miss that leaves us simply asking, “why?”.

Forget Me Not by Tom Holloway, Bush Theatre, 19 December 2015

A powerful evening at the theatre, this play.  It is about the forced migration of thousands of British children to Australia in the quarter-of-a-century or so after the second world war.

Janie came away from the play feeling very angry about the Australian Government, although in truth the Church and the UK Government have just as much to answer and apologise for; which, to some extent, all these parties have done in recent years.

The play is focused on one such child’s story and the impact this ill-thought policy had on his life and the lives of those around him – explained well in the Bush Theatre rubric – click here.

It is superbly acted by all four actors and well produced at the Bush, one of our favourite places at the moment, putting on interesting work with a consistent high quality; very few misses there.

Michael Billington was full of praise in his Guardian review – click here.  Henry Hitchings in the Standard was perhaps even more keen on it – click here.

It was originally produced at the Belvoir Theatre in Sydney in 2013, where it also seems to have gone down very well – for information and reviews click here.

It is quite a short evening at the theatre, which was just as well for us, as Janie and I wanted to go on to Lisa Opie’s party afterwards and get there before most people had left, which we achieved.  The party did a jolly good job of cheering us up again after this sobering but gripping evening at the theatre.