Inspired by an Amnesty International report, Fanta Orange gives a selective insight into modern Africa. Raised in Kenya, Sally Woodcock’s new play at Finborough Theatre gives voice to the brutality and ongoing HIV epidemic that many African women face. We follow the life and inevitable death of HIV-positive Regina, a housekeeper at Roger’s farm. Ronnie, who completes the trio, becomes intertwined in their lives.
Recently appointed Artistic Director of Salisbury Playhouse, Gareth Machin directed the performance commendably with great utilisation of the space. Although there were moments when the pace of the performance was lost and humour was forfeited, the overall spirit of the piece was engaging. Jay Villiers as Roger was forgivably shaky at times, which contributed to the weak punch lines, but the potential for great humour was there. Jessica Ellerby’s character, Ronnie, was neurotic and arrogant, stirring up stereotypes of British women in Africa. However uncomfortable it was to watch Ellerby at times, the anger she roused reflects how engrossing the performance was.
Set design by Alex Marker was brilliant, creating the atmosphere of a farm in Kenya even though a cold winter wind could be heard blowing outside. Music by Tom Gibbons added an extra layer to the African surroundings with Swahili-inspired vocals. The design was executed well, and reflected the intimate staging of the Finborough Theatre.
The play was anything but subtle; there was an underlying competitive element between Roger and Ronnie as to who was the most racist. Kehinde Fadipe had the audience in the palm of her hands from the beginning, her matter-of-fact demeanour as Regina was captivating and enticed sympathy. Although the ending seemed slightly hollow as it fell into the trap of reciting a cliched moral, the performance as a whole forced me to question my own view. Yet there was no true right or wrong answer just like “snow. On a mountain. In Africa. Odd. Somehow. Wrong. Almost. But right.”
Fanta Orange is playing at the Finborough Theatre until 26th November. For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre website.