It is difficult to pinpoint where exactly in The Orange Tree’s latest show, The Company Man, that I disagreed. Having given it some time to digest after my initial discontent with the play, I have come to the conclusion that it lies with Torben Betts writing. Betts portrayal of Jane and her exhausted husband William surrounded in their middle class comfort seems to miss the point of what could be a beautifully moving play. Jane suffers from Motor Neurone Disease (MND), one that is slowly destroying her body and the life she once had. Betts attempts to flash back to the life Jane had before the MND to add context, but this offers too much of a diversion from the real gem of Isla Blair playing the wheelchair bound Jane.
I strongly believe that theatre should have the power to provoke and engage with you on an emotional level, and seeing Blair croak her lines whilst immobilised in the wheelchair shook me to my core. This I can not deny provoked me, I just only wish that the rest of The Company Man could have followed through too with my emotions.
What could be a touching and poignant portrayal of a woman fighting a disease that kills half of the people diagnosed within 14 months, instead turns into the complicated family conflicts in the life Jane use to have – one that she was desperate to escape in the first place. William, the husband, played by Bruce Alexander is a frustrating and arrogant man whose life is about seeing his work within ‘the company’ develop to the best it could. Alexander pitches the right tone for this boisterous character, but (and this is purely a personal response), the character develops into someone that infuriated me to the point where my sympathies towards Jane’s need to escape was overwhelming.
There are delightful performances from Jack Sandle as the drunken son, but Bett’s need to bring in a back story of the Tai bride and her kicking out of Jack from his home seems a little too distracting from the main plot. Thankfully Sandle handles the character well and produces a most convincing stance at being drunk and helpless. Beatrice Curnew as Cathy, the daughter who is stuck looking after her mother, is calm, collective and truly likable – one of the most genuine characters Bett’s writes for.
Set in The Orange Tree’s in-the-round staging, Adam Barnard does an admirable job of balancing the action between the garden and living room helped greatly by William Reynolds lighting. Barnard works well to show the extent of damage that Bett’s characters have had, and sees that all the space is used effectively.
I’m sure that later shows within The Orange Tree’s new season will bound to fill me with joy, but The Company Man surely wasn’t meant for me – but with hearty laughs and applause from the audience, perhaps there is something to it that I couldn’t see.
The Company Man plays at the Orange Tree Theatre until 6th November, more information and tickets can be found on the website.