BWW Review: THE ORCHESTRA, Omnibus Theatre
What a curious piece is The Orchestra, revived at Clapham's delightful Omnibus Theatre.
Jean Anouilh's bijou 1962 play, that has something of the comic novella about it, invites us into the heart (indeed, the hearts) of musicians listlessly going through the motions in a bar, festering in a late 40s French town that hasn't recovered from the war yet and probably never will. The music is tired, the (unseen) audience is tired and the players are tired - tired of each others' company and of the cheesy classics they perform.
The energy - and the drama - is generated by the electricity that fizzes between the musicians, the six women bitching, and bickering as the pressures of living in each others' pockets, checking in and out of dinghy hotels, can be bottled up no longer.
Amanda Osborne gives us a leader full of cougarish sexuality, a woman who's had plenty of men, but not quite enough, and who flirts mercilessly and neggishly with the one male member of the ensemble, the nervous reluctant Lothario Leon (Pedro Casarin). He's having a torrid affair with the err... highly strung cellist, Suzanne (Stefania Licari) - they're French after all - and that petit ménage à trois was never likely to make sweet music.
Meanwhile, our attention flits between other conversations concerning obligations to parents and to children and to the infinite variety of ways human beings can navigate their lives.
Often, one sees on stage or screen the lives of men without women (at war, at work, at play), but seeing the lives of women without men is less common, particularly in the context not of feminist empowerment, but of the absence of love, comfort, satisfaction. With so many men dead in the war, such adjustments and concomitant tensions must have been commonplace and it's interesting to see them examined by the gimlet eye of a comic writer.
But there aren't many laugh out loud moments (though I laughed more than most in the audience). The comedy is dark, often found as much in the things that aren't said as much as the things that are, in the contrast between the vituperative exchanges full of disharmony and the musical interludes with their light classics tone. There's more than a touch of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music in the piece - with some of that show's poignant humour too.
Few are the productions that leave you wanting more but, having been introduced to this fractious ensemble, I was disappointed to leave their company so soon. It's a shame we don't get chance to find out more about them - perhaps a second movement needs to be written for this orchestra.
Photo Jacob Malinski