These are three brand new short plays about death but they could hardly be more different from one another. The first, Closer Scrutiny, deals with a dying astrophysicist talking to his cellular biologist daughter. The second, Duck, Death and the Tulip, is a sweet children’s story about the character Death making friends with a duck told with the use of puppets. The third, Skeletons, by David Lewis who wrote Seven Year Twitch, looks at the impact on a family six months after the father has died. It looks at the three adult children, variously screwed up sa a result of their mother’s Roman Catholicism and their father’s alcoholism, now trying to cope with each other and with their mother’s Alzheimers. Somehow, it manages to balance humour and sadness very cleverly and very entertainingly.I keep changing my mind whether Closer Scrutiny or Skeletons is the better play – in fact they are both excellent, with the lighter interlude taking us away from tense family relationships. A marvelous triple bill and a wonderful farewell to Sam Walters retirement as Artistic Director. The Orange Tree has given me great pleasure for at least 30 years and I can only hope that his successor will build on that achievement.
It is wonderful how the Orange Tree keeps finding unjustly neglected playwrights. I saw Susan Glaspell’s play Alison’s House there and looked forward to this, her final play, receiving its premiere 70 years after it was written. This is both its problem and its fascination – it was written in the middle of World War II. Many people in America had clearly not made up their minds whether the war was worth fighting and this confusion is reflected in the play. This leaves it not as well constructed as Alison’s House but offers a fascinating insight into the period. As always at the Orange Tree, the acting is of a high standard and the direction by Sam Walters is perfect.
Katie McGuinness was again superb as the title character after similar successes in Nan and Mary Broom (both also at the Orange Tree), whilst Christopher Ravenscroft plays a much nastier and more complex character than the nice DI Burden he played in Inspector Wexford. As it was the first preview, a couple of slight glitches in the first part are easily excused, especially as the director, Sam Walters, was in the audience ready to pick them up and make sure they are sorted by tonight. There was not a single fault in the second part which was sheer joy, the plot and performances picking up and driving forward to a perfect (but not predictable) ending.
I used to live closer to the Orange Tree Theatre, going regularly, and still try to go when as often as I can. Sam Walters specialises in finding relatively unknown, well-constructed plays from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a crime that this play, written in 1924 by Githa Sowerby, has never been performed in the UK. As with many of his other finds, what surprises is not how dated these plays are but how they resonate with our current time. It may seem odd that the only purpose-built true theatre in-the-round that I know of in London should offer such a good home for 100 year old plays.