Strange Orchestra

Saturday, 14 February, 2004
Review by: 
Amanda Hodges

The Orange Tree is well known for championing many a neglected dramatist and in the case of Rodney Ackland their current revival strikes particular resonance for it's in Richmond that he died in 1991. Strange Orchestra dates from 1932 when Ackland was in his twenties and just beginning his career. In the Bloomsbury flat of Vera, a slovenly bohemian with the archetypal 'heart of gold,' a group of restless young people party, squabble and seek definition for their rather rootless lives- a scenario given a cosy canvas by Sam Dowson's intimately cluttered set.

In form the play seems rather flimsy, its language dated but dig a little deeper and it's a far cry from more conventional fare of its day. Yes, there are characters like George for whom playing the banjo and socialising constitute the height of happiness, but essentially most of Ackland's protagonists are trying to invest their lives with some meaning, however elusive it is. Esther, one of Vera's daughters is an over-earnest girl desperate to make people take responsibility for society's ills, her sister Jenny is equally solicitous of finding romantic bliss but she actually achieves peace only after embracing the truth of her boyfriend's duplicity. Her mother Vera consoles her not with empty reassurance but by advocating her own belief in emotional self-sufficiency, recalling that when her erstwhile lover left her she did not disintegrate but remembered always 'I have myself.' Despite this, many of Ackland's characters fail to convince or fully engage, but there is considerable humour in Ellie Jones' fast-paced production, whether in terms of the 'vibrations' that Vera uses to gauge potential lodgers or in the superb comic turn delivered by Caitlin Mottram as Sylvia, a loquacious party guest.


( Production photos by Robert Day)

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