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Livestreamed performance of Outside at Orange Tree Theatre

There were moments in Two Billion Beats when one wonders if the youth of today really do talk in the way in which the script says they do. Do they really say, “Mickey Ds” instead of ‘McDonald’s’? Perhaps more pertinently, I found the implied assumption that schoolgirls would necessarily take their custom there slightly odd – other food outlets are available and indeed frequented by them.

Outside: Two Billion Beats - Ashna Rabheru and Zainab Hasan - photo by Ali Wright.
Outside: Two Billion Beats – Ashna Rabheru and Zainab Hasan – photo by Ali Wright.

But who gets their dinner from where isn’t the salient point in Two Billion Beats, a reference to what Bettina (Ashna Rabheru) refers to as the number of heartbeats in a person’s lifetime. At the risk of being accused of pedantry, I did a quick Google search: humans apparently have an average of 2.5 billion heartbeats. Either way, feel free to call yourself a ‘heartbeat billionaire’.

The play itself is, culinary taste aside, very good: Asha (Zainab Hasan) waxes lyrical about Gandhi and how he defended his values against fellow Indians where necessary as well as against the British Empire. The contrast between that and what is nothing more and nothing less than a schoolgirl spat between the two girls and school bully Steph is striking, but the struggle is nonetheless real (or at least feels that way). A highly intriguing conversation teases out some moral dilemmas – in particular, is lying to gain sympathy ever appropriate, if the sympathy solicited does no damage? In a world where the likes of Asha and Bettina survive whilst tackling the dual evils of racism and misogyny, there’s a lot to think about, and this play gives some consideration to some relevant social issues.

Prodigal feels like a story that’s been done before. Kasujja (Fiston Barek) has been away from the family home for a number of years but has returned. His sister Rita (Robinah Kironde) is not impressed: it is a week after their mother’s funeral. Kasujja could have said something along the lines of having to fly in and self-isolate, but perhaps that didn’t come to mind at the time, or perhaps that simply wasn’t the case. His actual reasons for staying away for so long, and coming back at all, are revealed in the course of the dialogue. Families and funerals happen to be a hot topic at the time of writing (days after the death of a senior member of the Royal Family), and the play is a plausible demonstration of the power of love to heal the deepest of emotional wounds.

In The Kiss, Lou (Temi Wilkey) jumps about (a little too much for me) between childhood memories and the present, or more precisely, the more recent past. There’s a valiant attempt at the Caledonian accent of her neighbour – far better, I must admit, than I could ever manage myself – but after the substantial matters that came to the fore in the previous two plays in this trilogy, it was difficult to have much sympathy with either side in neighbourly complaints about what should and should not be grown in one’s own garden or the disturbance apparently generated by the noise of wheelie bins being moved about. The play does raise a good point about non-Covid medical operations being paused during lockdown, and the various implications this has on those who are suffering.

There’s plenty of weighty material in these short plays, with some lighter moments breaking through – all things considered, a decent and confident production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Outside presents three stories of finding connection in the darkness and coming together after so long apart.
The designer is Camilla Clarke, lighting designer Rajiv Pattani and Sound Designer & Composer Max Pappenheim. and Casting by Sarah Murray.

The Inside/Outside series is curated by OT Literary Associate Guy Jones. Inside/Outside is part of OT On Screen, the Orange Tree Theatre’s digital project launched in January 2020 with Maya Arad Yasur’s play Amsterdam, watched by over 25,000 people worldwide. The productions, filmed in collaboration with The Umbrella Rooms, mark the company’s first live-streamed project, and the first live performances at the Orange Tree Theatre since lockdown began on 16 March 2020.

TWO BILLION BEATS
by Sonali Bhattacharyya
Asha and Bettina are smart teenagers. They’ve become very aware that they’re not being allowed to be themselves.

THE KISS
by Zoe Cooper
Lou and Soph have recently moved, and while Soph goes off to work at the local primary school, Lou is stuck at home and the thought of doing anything is becoming too much.

PRODIGAL
by Kalungi Ssebandeke
Relations have always been strained between siblings Kasujja and Rita, but the death of their mother forces them together.

Listings
Orange Tree Theatre
1 Clarence Street, Richmond, TW9 2SA
INSIDE/OUTSIDE
Box Office: 020 8940 3633
orangetreetheatre.co.uk
Outside: Thursday 15 – Saturday 17 April 2021

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