I’m a big fan of The Orange Tree theatre in Richmond – not only for it’s beautiful, intimate space but also for it’s friendly and welcoming staff – and therefore was incredibly happy to be back. As always, I knew nothing about the performance when I went in and I am glad of that fact. The reason being that, for me, everything involved in the performance turned out to be a complete surprise in every sense.
So… Where can I start?
“Mottled Lines” is a conceptual piece, something I think audiences need to understand from the off (and something I think, judging by the after show talk, a lot didn’t). The characters presented to us are representations of cross-sections of society involved in/affected by the London Riots last year. An amalgamation of thoughts, opinions and possible reasons why the riots took place, rather than following the lives and actions of specific people.
They’re all metaphors presented to us in a bold and unapologetic way which did seem obnoxious at times but, because of this, made it an unforgettable piece of theatre that punched you in the face and walked off without hesitation. Definitely not for the faint hearted!
Choosing to construct this performance using a series of consecutive and interlinking monologues was a brave choice from the writer, which showed a willingness to take big risks. Whilst admirable, and with sound logic behind such a brave choice, I found this incredibly taxing to watch at times. Monologues serve to naturally slow down the pace of any scene/moment in performance and, as a result, take a lot of concentration and effort from the audience to digest appropriately. I did find myself drifting away into my own personal daydream or wondering whether any of the actors had been in anything else I’d seen, for instance, rather than continuously fixating on the dialogue, as I should have been.
Whilst the writing itself was wonderfully poetic and dramatically active – propelling you into this slight off-shoot of our own reality – I couldn’t help but think this performance suffered from what I call ‘New Writer Syndrome’. The writer’s overly elaborate use of big words and overtly deccadent phrases in order to show his intelligence and ‘unique’ outlook on the world wore a bit thin after a while and became alienating and tiresome rather than beautiful and necessary.
I don’t hold it against him, particularly, I used to do the same with my work in the beginning but economy of language comes with experience that, this being his first play, he obviously hasn’t had, yet. We can’t all be Joe Penall from the moment we’re thrust into the limelight and I’m sure Harold Pinter made a few mistakes in his early days! But, just a side note for next time, sometimes less is more.
The acting, as a whole, was near flawless. The cast and crew had obviously spent a lot of time together, communicating, in order to work through the script in detail and understand fully what the piece was trying to say. Every line of the script was delivered by each actor with such meaning and purpose, I could feel the passion rising up from the performance space. Steven Elder – “Silver Tongue” (the Politician) – I thought was particularly good in his role as an over-worked and misunderstood MP trying to deal with the underlying issues of the riots and, unfortunately, causing even more problems then solutions.
One thing I did find quite unsatisfactory and therefore disappointing was the end of the performance. The characters all come together in one final action and one speaks on the behalf of them all. Not only was this inevitable and unsurprising (the most anti-climactic approach of all possible outcomes) but it felt far too contrived and immature to be taken seriously. All I could think whilst watching it was: “Oh, I knew that was going to happen, but I didn’t want it to”, which was sad for an otherwise intelligent and insightful take on a current and affecting real-life event.
Judging by the after show talk with the Director and the writer, the audiences clearly loved the performance – talking over themselves to tell the writer how wonderfully eloquent and masterful he is for someone so young. And, to some extent, I do agree. It was a whitty piece, full of promise and interesting perspectives not otherwise heard. It was brave. Personally, I just thought it was a little over-written and therefore exhaustive. I wish I’d kept count of the amount of times I heard the phrase “the fear” throughout.
All in all, a good first attempt from an exciting new writer. See it if you want something a little different but not if you want something safe and unchallenging!
Performed at the Orange Tree Theatre until the 14th July.