Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre runs a successful trainee director scheme, providing young, emerging directors with the opportunity to develop their skills in a professional environment. This scheme has succeeded in previous years in giving the trainees a helping hand into the working profession. Under the mentorship of Artistic Director Sam Walters, Teunkie Van Der Sluijs and Jimmy Grimes are this years trainees, and have been working on strikingly different pieces of theatre with subtle similarities. The culmination of their year’s work is now being showcased at the Orange Tree as a double bill production.
Both pieces are polished, well-executed dramas. The first, Then the Snow Came, follows Mick, a homeless man who is trying to raise enough money to visit his fragile ex-wife and estranged son. This play was developed by director Jimmy Grimes as a result of research into homelessness and by his fond recollection of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince. The gripping script consists of both improvised and real text from the mouths of those interviewed by Grimes, including police, hostel staff and hostel residents. Strong performances by Kieron Jecchinis and Daniel Cheyne in the lead roles dealt with the script beautifully and portrayed a touching friendship.
Following in the steps of Cardboard Citizens, it is refershing to hear the voices of people that we as a society may sometimes prefer to ignore. However, Wilde’s story of The Happy Prince, which ran through the play, felt like a rather tacked-on attempt at giving a personal story a wider context. Similarly, the brief inclusion of puppetry seemed more of an afterthought.
Special mention should be given 16-year-old Michael Smith of the Orange Tree’s 16-18 Youth Theatre Group, who was thoroughly convincing as Mick’s son. The Orange Tree should be congratulated for its passion both for assisting young directors, but also in showcasing the talents of its young performers.
The second performance of the evening, Winter by Jon Fosse, tells a very different story. Fosse’s new two-hander features a unique style of elliptical language – rhythmic, lyrical and highly repetitive – and an excellent use of anticipation and stillness.
Jennifer Higham and Stuart Fox play two characters who meet randomly on a city street, and develop a relationship where the intricate shift of power between them is captivating to watch. There are satisfying echoes of Pinter’s Betrayal, and the brilliantly physical performances from both actors make this a great production. The actors’ use of the Orange Tree’s theatre-in-the-round is highly effective in including all audience members into the fascinating if slightly macabre relationship. A simple set consists of four movable grey blocks that are shifted to represent benches, a bed and a table. Van der Sluijs has chosen not to use stage managers, but has the characters themselves move the set around in between scenes. These moments served to add to our understanding of character development over the passage of time. His dramaturgical choices allow the mystery and melancholy of Fosse’s work to shine through. Van der Sluijs is clearly a director to watch out for.
If this showcase is representative of the Orange Tree trainee’s talent, this reviewer very much looks forward to next year’s offerings.
The Directors Showcase Double Bill is playing at the Orange Tree Theatre until 9th July. For more information, see the website here.