Review: Inside, Orange Tree Theatre (online)

It’s been a good week for the theatre industry, with many theatres announcing their plans for reopening when coronavirus restrictions are eased over the next few months. And after a year of lockdown Orange Tree Theatre has launched its first digital production: Inside. Featuring three new plays (a further three will feature in the second production streaming in April), Inside tells the story of three women forgotten by the world who are dealing with loneliness and isolation. 

Deborah Bruce’s Guidesky and I stars Samantha Spiro as Diana, a middle-aged woman who has been scammed by an online company Guidesky 125. If that wasn’t enough, she’s having to clear out her late mother’s house, her mum having died alone in the middle of the pandemic. Diana is angry at being conned, and anxious and on edge at being isolated from the world – the only person she has to talk to is the assistant in Costcutter. Deborah Bruce has created a tense and compelling monologue which will certainly resonate with many people in the current pandemic who have been isolated from loved ones during a difficult time. Samantha Spiro is brilliant as Diana, brimming with nervous energy as she deals with her mother’s death while battling to get the refund she deserves.

Joel Tan’s When The Daffodils is a gripping two-hander starring Jessica Murrain and Ishia Bennison set in a post-pandemic world. Carer Samia (Murrain) visits an elderly lady Meg (Bennison) at Christmas, her final visit before she heads off for a festive break. Feeling lonely Meg welcomes the visit, but soon the conversation takes a darker tone when Meg voices her desire to escape her current surroundings. The audience soon learns that her decision to stay at home may not have been entirely voluntary. Both Jessica Murrain and Ishia Bennison are believable in their roles, Murrain as a carer both constrained by the clock and those in charge, and Bennison as a woman who yearns to leave her house. Again this is a relevant production and will surely strike a chord with many viewers. If anything this particular play needs to be longer, to fully flesh out the characters and delve more into the dystopian future which both intrigues and terrifies. 

The final play, Ursa Major is another two-hander about an unlikely friendship. Written by Joe White, this play tells the story of heartbroken Jay (Fisayo Akinde) who meets the ‘houseless’ blue-haired Callistto (Sasha Winslow) after a disastrous encounter with the self-service checkout at the supermarket. After Jay eventually relents and lets Callistto into his home to make herself a much-needed hot meal, the two share stories. With Jay a nervy, science-orientated man and Callistto a much more confident, relaxed woman, they soon discover a connection with one another. Ursa Major is a darkly funny play with some heartwarming moments, and above all it’s a reminder of the importance of being kind. 

Director Anna Himali Howard has done an impressive job of making these three separate plays feel like scenes from the same show, as does Shankho Chaudhuri’s set design, which evolves from abandoned, sheet covered furniture to an inviting living room. Meanwhile Jessica Hung Han Yun’s suits the various moods well, from dark and brooding in Guidesky and I to warmer and more inviting in Ursa Major. 

Inside features three thought-provoking and topical plays with heaps of potential. With strong scripts and impressive performances, this really sets the bar high for the second show in the series, Outside, and shows that the future of theatre is looking very bright indeed.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Inside is live streaming from the Orange Tree Theatre until 27 March.

Photo credit: Ali Wright

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