The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk Spring 2020
A coproduction of the
Actors Touring Company, the Orange Tree Theatre and Theatre Royal
Plymouth, this intriguing and thought-provoking drama by Israeli
author Maya Arad Yasur played the Orange Tree in the Autumn of 2019,
and is now available online.
As directed by Matthew
script plays like an extended actors' game, though one that takes the
performers and audience into unexpected and disconcerting territory.
The four performers – Daniel Abelson, Fiston Barek, Michal Horowicz
and Hara Yannas – do not play characters, but narrators
collaborating on what is designed to seem like a
Speaking in random order
for each new sentence, try to come up with something to follow,
consider and reject blind alleys, and even occasionally wander off
into digressions or sub-stories. The illusion of improvisation is
supported by one of the few props on the largely bare stage, a bell
which any one of them can ring to force another to provide a footnote
to what was just said, identifying a person mentioned or translating
a foreign phrase.
The story they stumble
their way to is of a
pregnant Israeli musician living in Amsterdam who suddenly receives
an enormous gas bill. Some detective work by the woman and narrative
invention by the storytellers discovers that the bill dates back to
1944, when the Jewish resident of the flat was sent to Auschwitz and
the flat was taken over as the local Nazi headquarters.
irony of the Nazis not paying their gas bill is a strong and resonant
image, but it is soon followed by that of the modern Dutch
bureaucracy totally uninterested in history and just wanting its bill
paid and books cleared.
Along the way, the
narrators get sidetracked
into an episode of the modern woman imagining others in a supermarket
queue looking at her, a dream of Otto Frank, the experience of an
Israeli soldier under friendly fire and the speculation that the 1944
woman's husband might have been a collaborator.
The one element
common to both the central narrative and the sub-stories is the
assumption that the native Dutch always see others first as
foreigners, then (when relevant) as Jews, and only third – if at
all – as individuals.
Operating totally by
Amsterdam becomes a rumination on the complex and ambivalent Dutch
attitude toward its own history. Rightly proud of their bravery
against the Nazis and their record of liberalism since, they also
retain a deep Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism that embarrass them so
that – like the man from the gas board – they would much rather
just not think about it.
Director and actors
deserve high praise for
establishing the narrative mode and sustaining it through the 90
minute drama, for creating a sense of characters and places without
ever actually showing them and, above all, for aiding the playwright
in creating a play clearly and evocatively about something it never
The recorded version smoothly and intelligently cuts between two or three cameras, nicely capturing not only the play but the experience of the Orange Tree's in-the-round stage, though the sound – from, I would guess, a single hanging microphone – is not always audible or clear.
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