The Orchestra, Clapham Omnibus

4 Luna Dai plays Patricia - pic credit Jacob Malinksi.jpg

by Laura Kressly

Decked in their finest formal wear, a chamber orchestra entertains the punters in a post-war Parisian cafe. During their songs, they are a picture of beautiful unity. In between? Not so much. The absurd and darkly comic backstabbing and in-fighting builds to a crescendo that ends in tragedy, but the production is ultimately unsatisfying.

Though the juxtaposition between the collaboration required of an orchestra and the reality of this bitter group of characters is dramaturgically pleasing, the depiction of women is dated to the point of offensiveness. Though the cast of eight is six women strong, the characters’ conversation largely circles around men, motherhood and responsibilities to their families. There’s a preoccupation with sex that’s supposed to be funny, but in this painfully heteronormative world where women define themselves through their relationships to men, it provokes minimal laughter.

The cast is commendably representative of the nationalities and ethnicities that make up the artistic community in London, but some of them struggle to embody their characters’ dialogue in English. Though the performances are somewhat heightened, they aren’t exaggerated enough to cover this disconnect. Given the rich range of linguistic ability on stage, a multilingual script with English subtitles would give the production more dynamism and allow the actors more freedom to play.

Though there’s always worth in staging lesser-known plays, particularly from non-British writers, this one is an uncomfortable time capsule, and the staging doesn’t highlight relevance to our current, divided political landscape. Written to reflect a people picking themselves up from the horrors of Nazi occupation, the politics that are present are glossed over in favour of the pettiness. Even though the one-act play is just over an hour, it never manages to gather momentum.

The Orchestra runs through 17 February.

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