If you shut your eyes for long enough during Orchard Theatre's , you could easily imagine that you've tuned into a vaguely compulsive radio play. The handful of actors, the sound effects, but, above all, the presence of Great Themes: the English colonisation of Virginia in the 1600s (God- fearing tobacco-hungry settlers versus "heathen" native Americans); the US tobacco industry's contemporary assault on the markets of the Far East and, underpinning both, female perfidy.
Under such sackloads of weighty matter, it's not surprising that characterisation becomes a little strained. David Roecliffe's young farmer is all wide- eyed determination, director Bill Buffery's zealous missionary all sound and fury - there are only a certain number of times he can vent lines like "Assail me, you savage, I am strongest in adversity," before you wonder why the natives don't just throw their spears and have done with it. It is only the plucky Indian woman Pocahontas (Gill Nathanson), manoeuvring between their respective interpretations of Virginia as Eden and Hell, who is not "trapped in history" or stereotype. Until, that is, she repeats the exercise in the second half as a Nineties career woman. Having scattered some interesting ideas, John Pilkington's piece reaps cliches. Loincloths and ritualised movement apart, the sensual temptations you hear described in the text never translate as credible forces for historical change on stage.
A street corner at night, the intersection of two roads, forms the steely grey set for Victoria Worsley's new play Night Train. Into it walk Sam and Anna: he, easy, loitering; she, urgent, rushing through with a suitcase. From their first semi-confessional exchange to the beatific resolution the play presents the choreography of a relationship, the myriad ways in which two lovers' thoughts and emotions intersect, and touches on themes of dependency, solitude and control. This is a world where the truth of simple statements is revealed to be provisional. Dramatic tension comes from the gap between apparent meaning and contradictory emotional undercurrents. Worsley is good on humour, and bathos and irony in the dialogue generally prick any tendency to pretension. Some sequences, however - Anna smearing herself in tomatoes as she delivers a monologue of self-loathing - remain heavy handed. And it's unfortunate that the word games and persistent paralysis of the characters recall far more resonant moments from Waiting for Godot.
Worsley's drama boldly straddles the new theatre aesthetics of companies as diverse as Theatre de Complicite and Forced Entertainment, but never quite attains the imagistic ingenuity of the former or the searing poetry of the latter. Theresa Heskins' capable production is well served by Ewan Bailey as Sam and Worsley herself as Anna, and by the assured jazz trumpeter Jim Howard.
Ellen CranitchReuse content