TOM’S A-COLD and THE RUFFIAN ON THE STAIR
by David Egan by Joe Orton.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 19 June 2010.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 June.
A good year in the Orange Tree showcase.
Investing in theatre’s future, Richmond’s Orange Tree ends each season with a Directors’ showcase in which its annual trainees share a slot after a season assisting others.
The King Lear-derived title of Canadian David Egan’s play points to the harshness of nature and the potential of man to be bestial or humane explored in the action. Its two characters are marooned in a rowing-boat, part of Sir John Franklin’s unsuccessful 1845 attempt to explore Canada’s undiscovered north.
Egan gradually reveals the full circumstances of both the officer Thomas and rating George, disorienting the audience as illusion, delusion and flashes of time-switching fill the action, questioning what’s real and what fantasy.
Lear’s cruelty is comparatively easy to imitate, but Egan goes beyond this to suggest that in extremis unaccommodated man can discover new possibilities of humanity among his needs.
Director Lora Davies manages the shifting tones precisely, both from moment-to-moment and on a larger scale, as the action moves into extremes of attempted survival, while she’s certainly strong on the half of a director’s skill that’s said to lie in casting.
Christopher Heyward’s Thomas has an officer’s forceful command, wrenched awry by desperate hunger, while Luke Trebilcock’s George sits huddled, withdrawn and following orders with a delayed reluctance explained by the end, giving an acutely individual portrait of a resentful lower-deck hand adrift in a no-deck rowing-boat.
After this, life in Joe Orton’s early play (originally for radio, then staged in 1967 as part of the double-bill ‘Crimes of Passion’) seems safe as houses. Except this house isn’t safe, with Carl Prekopp’s Wilson smilingly sinister as a would-be tenant – a dry-run for Mr Sloane.
Menace happens more explicitly than in Pinter’s plays of the time, while Orton suggests gangland London with the character of plausible hit-man Mike. John Paul Connolly has his vanity precisely, while Prekopp flicks between moods with the dangerous swiftness of a switchblade. In a finely-drawn portrayal of fear and anxiety, Emma Beattie’s Joyce shows how imprisoned women could be by a reliance on male authority. This angle defines Emma Faulkner’s revival, which catches the menace-laden comedy beautifully.
Thomas: Christopher Heyward
George: Luke Trebilcock.
Director: Lora Davies.
The Ruffian on the Stair
Joyce: Emma Beattie.
Mike: John Paul Connolly.
Wilson: Carl Prekopp.
Director: Emma Faulkner.
(for both plays🙂
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: Stuart Burgess.
Fight director: Philip D’Orleans.