Orange Tree Theatre (venue)

19 April 2021 (released)

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This is the second part of Orange Tree Theatre’s first new writing productions after pandemic closure. Following on from the successful ‘Inside’, we again see into the internal turmoil of characters enduring this last year. In each short play there is the sense of release, as we see life move outside, but feelings of entrapment still exist. With a stage strewn with the detritus of plants and soil, it echoes a world where the intent to make a new future is littered with well meaning but failed attempts.

The first play Two Billion Beats by Sonali Bhattacharyya , sees two school girl sisters played with great attack by Zainab Hasan and Ashna Rabheru, facing up to school days that are tainted by racial prejudice and bullying. Two very different personalities that have very different ways of coping but will always have each other for support. The Two billion beats are in reference to the idea that we each have a certain amount of heartbeats during our lifetime, and that if we live a life of stress we use them quicker. As part of the telling of this story, the character Asha addresses the viewing audience direct, allowing her to comment on as well as be part of the action. There is a lovely twist when Asha realises that her sister Bettina can actually hear these internal comments.

It is followed by Prodigal by Kalungi Ssebandeke. This piece’s opening image is that of a Welcome mat ,which is made all the more prophetic as we discover that Kasujja (Fiston Barek)has been absent from the family and has unexpectedly returned after the death of his mother. He is met and admonished by his one sister Rita (Robinah Kironde). Her lack of trust and his entreaty for acceptance is a delight to watch. The writing here is excellent and the struggle for reconciliation feels totally true,

The last of the three is The Kiss by Zoe Cooper. This piece is delivered as a monologue, with the excellent Temi Wilkey as Lou narrating the action and adding the voices of her partner and neighbours with complete ease. Lou is furloughed at home and begins the piece being an observer of what her new neighbours are doing as they settle into the street. There is the perfunctory meetings on the doorstep and front gardens. The play is both amusing, and at the same time a subtle portrayal of a mental anxiety that threatens her relationship, and even her life. The ‘Kiss’ of the title, is an unexpected encounter with a guinea pig resulting in anaphylactic shock adding to her bizarre encounters.

The direction by Georgia Green, has enriched these small intimate stories enabling them to transcend the oppressive nature of living in the pandemic, and in their own individual ways become life affirming .

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