Review: Precious Little Talent, Orange Tree Theatre

Precious Little Talent, written by Ella Hickson, is one of three plays that form part of the Director’s Festival at Orange Tree Theatre, a showcase of the work of students on Orange Tree Theatre and St Mary’s University MA Theatre Directing course.

The plot is simple. It’s Christmas Eve 2008, American carer Sam is sitting on the rooftop of a New York City apartment block. Behind him sits a total stranger; an English girl named Joey. Together they spend the night exploring the city and when the evening is over Sam has fallen for Joey. His feelings are clearly not reciprocated with Joey yelling “I don’t believe in you” before fleeing from him. When it is revealed the next day (Christmas Day) that Joey is the daughter of George, Sam’s employer, things start to get pretty awkward. Joey wants a normal Christmas, George and Sam want to hide George’s failing health from her and, as a result of this, tensions rise between the three of them.

Precious Little Talent explores what happens when English cynicism meets American optimism. Sam aged 19 years old is full of hope for his future and plans to become a doctor. Meanwhile 23 year old Joey recently graduated university and is utterly disappointed that her dreams have not realised themselves. It is interesting to note that another play in the Director’s Festival, Katie Johnstone, has similar themes of broken dreams and when viewed together (Katie Johnstone plays before Precious Little Talent) it encourages the audience to think about their own ambitions and whether they’ve given up on them.

The set is simply yet effective and makes good use of the Orange Tree Theatre in-the-round stage. The casting of the play is to be commended, Collingwood is incredibly believable playing to the trope of middle class university graduate while Simon Shepherd, a veteran of the London stage, gives a heart-breaking performance as George, a retired English professor in the early stages of Dementia. The star of the show however has to be Matt Jessup who fits the role of Sam so well. Instantly likeable, he infuses a play which could be seen as somewhat depressing with energy and positivity leading to many comedic moments throughout.

In choosing Precious Little Talent for their director’s showcase I think Dominque Chapman made a good decision – it is often said that theatre needs to be relevant and Precious Little Talent certainly feels so. Due to it being set in the early days of Obama’s presidency, there is a strong nostalgic quality to the play. One can’t help but wonder whether if set in the present day, Sam would be such an optimistic person given the current situation both here in the UK and across the pond.

Precious Little Talent is playing at Orange Tree Theatre until 20 July 2018

Photo: Robert Day