Summer Again

In the garden of a remarkably youthful nonagenarian, a motley group of individuals spend a day confronting the absurdities of modern life, their inconsequential chatter masking deeper fears about the very nature of their existence, what one character Roddy neatly encapsulates with his plaintive refrain of "What does it all mean?" Designer Sam Dowson has created an ironic milieu, the cosy comfort of a rural garden belying the insecurity and angst of the drama's protagonists.

As 91-year-old Toby (Robin Parkinson) savours the prospect of acquiring a new garden, few of the other characters - with the exception of Joyce (Octavia Walters) - seem to share his sense of purpose. Daniel (Jack Sandle) is a young writer floundering for inspiration, his mother Ariadne (Miranda Foster) teeters on the brink of a shallow affair, his father Roddy (Robert Benfield) seems bewildered by life's developments, his yearning for a nostalgic past symbolised by the intermittent drone of a plane overhead. Daniel's girlfriend Joyce is angered by the war in Iraq and demands the same level of passionate conviction from those around her.

The Orange Tree have a long-established connection with David Cregan's plays, their association dating back to 1972, shortly after the current theatre's inception. Whilst it's true that many of the finest dramas use humour as deceptive camouflage for profound observation, it's equally essential that you're able to engage with a play's characters in order to benefit, otherwise all becomes merely polemic. And this deficit lies at the heart of why Summer Again, directed by Joyce Branagh, fails to make the impact its playwright clearly intends. The characters as a whole, who inhabit slightly surreal territory, are not persuasive in the least. Yes, one can see how Ariadne has more native sense than even she suspects and how Joyce is prepared to confront rather than ponder the hardships of life, but it's hard to really care when the characters remain so resolutely undeveloped. Cregan calls his latest work ' playful.. a piece of wrought stuff ', but it lacks the discernible deftness of touch to delight, giving just the odd ripple of amusement and much consistent frustration.

(Amanda Hodges)

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