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The Orange Peel by TilThisNight at Drayton Arms Theatre | Review

The Orange Peel by TilThisNightKarl Falconer is an intelligent writer, even if he’s in the cast of his own play, a writer playing a writer.
The Orange Peel is largely set in an apartment on the eighteenth floor of a serviced tower block rented by Harry (Dominic Farrow) and his girlfriend Dani (Rhea Little). Dani’s brother, Michael (Falconer) and Michael’s wife Rebecca (Phoebe Jakober) are coming over for a meal. This sounds a little like the setup for an Alan Ayckbourn comedy, or even a Noël Coward one. Aside from this play not being a comedy (though it does have amusing moments), the notable difference here is that it’s the upper classes that are ridiculed, or rather shown up to be just as fallible as anyone else.

Michael goes further, with a topical observation in the light of recent events surrounding a talk show programme hosted by the broadcaster Jeremy Kyle, on the sort of shows that air on television. The working classes are often shown to be silly at best, dangerous at worst. In short, caricatures, or what Michael calls “pornogrification” of the working class (presumably a similar concept to the title of political commentator Owen Jones’ first book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class). Now, it could be argued that The Orange Peel is just as bad, making light as it does of Harry and Dani’s living arrangements, an apparently minimalist style in which furniture is largely frowned upon, as well rather hammy portrayals of Harry’s parents. But it eventually becomes clear that Michael’s distaste of posh boy Harry has far more to do with the latter’s dishonesty rather than his upbringing.

The play is not, strictly speaking, in chronological order, but the flashback scenes to earlier times do not make the production unnecessarily complicated, instead giving some further context (or at least reinforcement) to the events of what, perhaps predictably, become an acrimonious night when increasingly simmering tensions eventually boil over. It takes a while to grasp everything that’s going on, and more particularly, why – for instance, if Michael finds Harry so disagreeable, then why share a night in the same space as him? Questions like that (the answer to which is surprisingly straightforward in the end) keep the audience engaged, thinking, pondering, and keen to find out more.

I suppose the steady pace of the production is in some ways indicative of the awkwardness the characters feel. But there is such a thing as too slow, and this production is, frankly, close to the mark: thankfully it doesn’t quite reach it. As for the characters, Dani is keen for things to go smoothly, whilst in the others, something doesn’t feel quite right. Michael is indifferent when Rebecca takes time out and leaves the flat, ostensibly for fresh air but then she is gone for hours.

Harry, meanwhile, revels in making personal putdowns towards Michael and as for Rebecca herself, there’s a slightly eerie coldness to her personality, a steely and rather solemn demeanour that only later, and only briefly, become warmer and heartfelt.

The brother-sister relationship between Michael and Dani is well-explored, and in the course of the evening a comprehensive understanding of something that is essentially far more ‘friendship’ than ‘sibling rivalry’ is distinctly formed. In an era where university studies are arguably less feasible for working-class youngsters because of tuition fees and living costs, one wonders how many from modest backgrounds won’t benefit from the degree-level education that Michael was able to participate in. Oh, and how wonderful to see a new play set in modern Britain that has nothing to do with That Referendum! A deep and thoughtful production with a decent amount of material and several themes to chew over.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The Orange Peel explores what it’s like to be a 20-something in today’s divided world. Is blood really thicker than water? Are there taboos we have yet to discover?

When two brothers and their partners meet for dinner, nothing is off limits. What follows is an investigation into sex and power that will shock, seduce and terrify.

Don’t miss this new work from TilThisNight, nominated for the Brighton Fringe Festival Best Newcomer Award. Are some things so horrific that we cannot look away? Where is our nature, when language is gone?

Performances:
Sun 26th and Mon 27th May 2019
https://www.thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/

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