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BWW Review: OUTSIDE, Orange Tree Theatre Online

Three new plays live-streamed from the ever-innovative venue

BWW Review: OUTSIDE, Orange Tree Theatre Online

BWW Review: OUTSIDE, Orange Tree Theatre Online Following on from the Orange Tree's successful debut into the world of theatrical streaming with Inside, comes Outside, a premiere of three plays from new and established artists. The concept of inside and outside has been questioned by everyone over the last year. For many, being outside represents freedom, space and air. For others, it represents uncertainty and a sense of not belonging.

Sonali Bhattacharyya's Two Billion Beats looks at two teenage sisters dealing with growing up, racism and injustice. We first see Asha cleaning graffiti off the school gates as part of a detention. Her little sister Bettina wants a favour but Asha is preoccupied with her own issues and does not engage. Zainab Hasan is full of energy and purpose as the streetwise yet ultimately vulnerable Asha.

Ashna Rabheru is very convincing as the younger Bettina. This character is slightly underwritten compared with that of her sister, but there is a nice rapport between the two, whereby the elder sister is not always the saviour her younger sibling expects or hopes for.

Prodigal is written by Kalungi Ssebandeke, last seen at the Orange Tree appearing in Athol Fugard's thought-provoking Blood Knot. The play follows a difficult meeting between an estranged brother and sister following the death of their mother. This event forces them to confront the roots of their conflict and work towards some sort of resolution. Ssebandeke delivers a sincere and considered script which deftly explores the unique conflicts and connections that occur within families.

Brother Kasujja is played by an enthusiastic Fiston Barek, an outsider who turns up in his sharpest suit looking for both money and resolution. Robinah Kironde is excellent as Rita, instinctive and convincing as the abandoned sister. The pair have a natural yet prickly chemistry, which will be familiar to anyone who has experienced familial conflict.

Zoe Cooper was nominated for the Best New Production of a Play Award in the 2019 Broadwayworld UK Awards for Out Of Water, which premiered at the Orange Tree. Her play The Kiss explores the experience of moving to a new community at the start of lockdown and how to navigate around this new space. This is the only play of the trio that explicitly references both the pandemic and the notions of physically being inside and outside.

Temi Wilkey is intensely likable as Lou. Her solo performance feels unforced as she moves with ease between her own thoughts to an imitation of the Scottish accent of her friendly neighbour and the Geordie one of her wife.

Cooper nimbly reveals a huge amount of personality and information in a short period; Lou shifts from someone intensely bored of life in lockdown who has become interested in growing vegetables to a person with much deeper issues of loss, lack of motivation and mental illness. There are also some delicious details about social expectations, such as noticing how quickly the bins are taken in and not allowing dandelions to grow in the garden.

Director Georgia Green, last seen at the Orange Tree with the touching The Mikvah Project, makes the most of the theatre's unique space, using a wide variety of camera angles and positions. The elevated shot, as though seen from the theatre's gallery, is particularly compelling.

Camilla Clarke's set of pot plants around a concrete-looking bench/rock is simple and little changes between the productions, which feels like a wasted opportunity to create more punctuation between the pieces. In contrast, Rajiv Pattani's natural lighting does create different moods for each piece.

Live streaming theatrical productions in a pandemic is a challenge for any theatre, and here the strength of the writing in each play makes for an absorbing evening.

Outside is streaming until 17 April

Photo Credit: Ali Wright

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