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  The Theatreguide.London Review


Factors Unforeseen
Orange Tree Theatre Spring 2009

Michel Vinaver's A La Renverse, here in a new translation by Catherine Camp, is part sociological study, part satire of big business. Its two streams may sometimes get in each other's way, further clouded by Vinaver's idiosyncratic style, but the end product is still engrossing, thought-provoking and frequently very funny.

A cosmetic business built on a sun tanning cream comes a-cropper when a glamorous personage goes public about her skin cancer, turning public taste against the sun.

Frantic rethinking of marketing strategy, internecine politicking, coping with worried employees and bolshie union leaders, and trying to second-guess the distant American conglomerate that ultimately owns them keeps the company executives in a comical tizzy that also exposes just how fragile the whole capitalist construct is (as if we needed much reminding these days).

Vinaver is particularly wicked in his depiction of junior executives far more concerned with gauging which direction the in-house winds are blowing than in saving the company, and of those who cannot see past their own comfort zones, however irrelevant they are becoming - like the sales manager whose solution to every crisis is to announce yet another special offer.

Nobody is safe from the playwright's sharp eye. When the company all but goes under, and the workers take it over, their first action is to impose staff and wage cuts far worse than any threatened by the bosses. And even the noble lady dying so beautifully and heroically on a weekly television show spouts some quasi-philosophical nonsense as she gazes with studied wanness into the camera.

Vinaver's texts are notoriously difficult, with few stage directions and not even much punctuation, and it is very much to the credit of director Sam Walters that he has decoded it into a production so almost-completely-clear and so effective in both its comic and serious moments.

A cast of twenty, at least half of them doubling roles, are moved fluidly about the small Orange Tree stage, and all contribute equally even if the structure of the play allows none to stand out.

Once again Sam Walters and the Orange Tree take on a project of a scope and nature you would expect to be the purview of the National Theatre, and once again this tiny suburban theatre puts the bigger kids to shame.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review - Factors Unforeseen - Orange Tree 2009