“What we want – and you know this, but I’ll say it again – what we need is lists. People like lists. They share lists”
One of the more difficult jobs that Paul Miller has had, dealing with the loss of Arts Council England funding aside, is in bridging the gap between the old and the new at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre. As the incoming Artistic Director, his debut season has more than doubled the number of first-time visitors to this in-the-round space – fuelled by buzz-worthy successes like Pomona, soon to be revived at the National – but Miller has also kept a keen eye on existing audiences, making sure that the shift in programming, with a wide range of new writers and directors, hasn’t come at their expense but rather just widened the remit of this venue.
And it is tempting to see buckets , the latest production there, as something of a bridge – Rania Jumaily is the Orange Tree’s Resident Director and first-time (full-length) writer Adam Barnard started as a trainee director here back in 2003 but together, they’ve come up with a subtly forward-thinking piece of theatre. Initial impressions are a little reminiscent of a Gap advert with the company of six draped in shades of blue and white and flowers scattered around a stage dominated by a stainless steel slide but in the midst of James Turner’s innocuous-seeming set, an intriguing mode of storytelling emerges.
A number is called out and then a title, a scene follows and then the process is repeated. Some are performed standing, some lying down; some are just a couple of lines long, some are fully worked mini-plays in their own right; some have all six cast members, some just two, others still feature a community choir too. This open-endedness is deliberate – Barnard specifies that the 33 scenes of the play (fewer are shown here, 27 I think) can be performed by any number and composition of actors, what links them in a spiderweb of connective themes, all circling around the idea of time running out.
It is beguilingly done in its kaleidoscopic way – all the ups and downs of life are here from the agony of terminal illness to the heady rush of first kisses to happenstance meetings in bars to cold and lonely train platforms in the dead of night. And as Charlotte Josephine quite literally breaks your heart, or Sarah Malin flirts deliciously, or Tom Gill unleashes his rap skills (or is that skillz), it is hard not to get swept up in the randomness of Barnard’s world. There’s a good deal of humour in here too – Jon Foster’s dry wit is well utilised, Sophie Steer’s comic timing cuts brilliantly through a key emotional moment and Rona Morison’s patient gets probably the best single moment of the show.
So buckets of fun to be had at buckets, which ought to continue the successful reinvigoration of the Orange Tree as a place for audiences both new and old.