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In their first live performance in over a year, Orange Tree Theatre’s Guy Jones has curated six new short plays, collectively presented as Inside/Outside, a two-part production streamed live from the theatre. Inside features the first three plays, delving into isolation through the lives of three very different women.
Debroah Bruce’s Guidesky and I sets a captivatingly high standard from the start. Following Diana as she battles with an online scammer who refuses to send her what she has paid for. Compounded by the passing of her mother, she struggles to find a way to move on, clinging to the small moments of connection that she has in her ever-decreasing circle of contact.
Samantha Spiro’s portrayal of grief is captivating, constantly demanding attention with her harrowing looks and neurotic mannerisms, carefully balanced against beautiful moments of contemplation. Bruce’s gripping drama comes not from the action but from the inaction of the scene; moments of stillness feel active, as though her thoughts cause vibrations through space as her fears begin to consume her.
In a seamless change, we slip into a confounding piece with When The Daffodils by Joel Tan, bringing us the complex relationship between housebound Meg and her carer Samia. Meg challenges Samia’s resolve when she confides in Samia of her longing to leave the confines of her flat for the world she glimpses through her window.
Tan’s text is all about fluidity, never settling on one thought or emotion for too long, requiring a demanding level of commitment from its performers (Ishia Bennison and Jessica Murrain), which is met throughout. Though at first Tan’s text appears to be set in familiar surroundings, it becomes clear through some perplexing dialogue that all is not as it seems, creating one of the most unpredictable and dynamic scenes I have seen all year, and painting a dire picture of dependency and loneliness that is truly compelling.
Blending in with a swift shift of atmosphere is Ursa Major, a humorous and touching play by Joe White which flips preconceptions on their head. After becoming regrettably separated from his partner, Jay reluctantly offers a hot meal to Callisto, a homeless woman he meets outside a store. As their connection develops, the lines blur as to who is giving aid to whom.
Though I feel initially sceptical, Sasha Winslow, in her performance as Callisto, brings more than just her history of homelessness to this role; imbuing the text with a profoundly natural and moving delivery that stills the air, she finds tender nuances without plunging them into sentimentality. In Callisto’s flippant attitude to Jay (played with total control by Fisayo Akinade), White creates a pairing that forces the dynamic to shift palpably through the scene.
In her direction, Anna Himali Howard creates a space where these three plays feel totally akin, drifting perfectly from one to the next with no sense of a clash. She masterfully poses the women at the centre of these scenes, playing the truth of them through touches of stillness, intensifying the internal tension and letting the text do its job. The design by Shankho Chaudhuri is superbly simple; miraculously — although nothing changes between the scenes – the set feels as though it is organically adapting from scene to scene, most certainly enhanced by Anna Clock’s lighting.
Through these three stunning plays, and truly electrifying casting by Sarah Murray, OT On Screen has delivered an experience that is the closest I have felt to live theatre since last year. Inside is a bittersweet reflection of desperation from theatre’s darkest age, and one that is sure to help to light the way ahead.
Inside is now streaming online until Saturday 27 March 2021. For more information and to book tickets, visit Orange Tree Theatre online.