Theatre Review: Buckets @ The Orange Tree

Buckets by Adam Barnard: The Orange Tree Theatre (Richmond)

Directed by: Rania Jamaily

Running until: 27th June

For those who know and love it The Orange Tree in Richmond is SW’s best kept theatrical secret. Established in 1971 above a pub it has been operating since the 90s in its current home, purpose built in the round. Specialising in staging new plays and reviving neglected classics it has a well-deserved reputation for excellence and has recently branched out to a partnership with the National Theatre.

Buckets is an experimental piece which takes its inspiration from the idea of a Bucket List; the things we want to do before we die. Through a series of snapshot interactions between characters, different human experiences of death and the search for fulfilment are presented to the audience by a cast of 6 actors (Jon Foster, Tom Gill, Charlotte Josephine, Sarah Malin, Rona Morison and Sophie Steer) who take on multiple, anonymous, roles.

One of the great strengths of the Orange Tree is the consistently innovative use of their unique space. This production is no exception with a simple set designed by James Turner. Consisting of a blue carpet with yellow flowers growing out of it and a large chrome slide it allows the actors (who are all dressed in similar cool blue colours) to create multiple scenes playing with the different levels available.buckets_OrangeTreeTheatre_Sophie Steer, Jon Foster, Tom Gill, Charlotte Josephine_photo by Robert Daybuckets_OrangeTreeTheatre_Sarah Malin, Rona Morison, Charlotte Josephine_photo by Robert Day

The stories in Buckets flit about like a pinball, never landing anywhere for very long and none being played out to their conclusion. Some scenes are tiny, little more than witty one liners, others lasting 10 minutes or so. There is some action, particularly an attempted suicide scene near the end, but largely the mood is contemplative, rather than dramatic. In the hands of less accomplished actors this might have been problematic as they have to work hard to seamlessly knit the various disjointed stories together.

All six actors, however, are energetic and their movements have a precision that lends itself well to this type of theatre. They work extremely well as a company, creating compelling scenes and recognisable characters within moments through subtle changes of pose and expression. Despite having no consistent narrative the production is gripping because the actors create a relationship with the audience, they reveal their different styles early on and the fact that the action takes place in the round allows the viewer to pick and choose who they focus on.

Helpfully, each scene is numbered  with 30 separate stories crammed into this one act play. The stories explore different individual situations mostly relating to how we deal with death, as well as those exploring family and romantic relationships. Inevitably with so much content to work with some scenes are of more interest than others. Those which work best are often those where a simple concept is given an unexpected twist, for example when a conventional mother and daughter argument is played out with the younger actress placed in the mother role and vice versa.

The play also relies on the actors to fill in missing dialogue through a significant look or particular facial expression creating some very funny and poignant moments. Less successful moments occur when the script veers too far into an abstraction or when the stories leave too many questions unanswered.

The last sequence moves away from the everyday interactions that have characterised most of the play, instead presenting a corporate style briefing for a soul in limbo about to be born. This end section is an important addition as it allows the audience to reflect on everything else they have seen, especially as there is no clear conclusion to the play.

Buckets is a play that allows the audience to experiment with its ideas along with the actors. It’s playful and fun but also contemplative, a chance to press pause on the familiar highs and lows of everyday life, considering their wider implications more deeply…oh and there’s some great singing from Orange Tree’s Community Ensemble as well!

Photo Credit – Robert Day

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