Orange Tree Theatre Spring 2016 and touring
If there were any less to Robert Holman's 1977 play you'd have trouble finding it on the stage.
Holman writes about small events in the small lives of small people. At his best he can convince you, movingly, that small events may loom large in small lives. At his weakest he shows you too little about people he doesn't tell you enough about to let you care about.
Four people converge on a bird-watching point in the Tees estuary – a middle-aged and a younger bird watcher, an old pal of the older man, and the younger man's wife.
Spoiler alert: one of these people is going to die, but as it is the one we know least and care about least, and as the others do not seem significantly affected, it doesn't seem particularly meaningful.
What is noteworthy is that the older twitcher is something of a grey nonentity and that the younger man, despite occasional flashes of ambition, seems well on his way to the same fate.
The older man settled for being a teacher in a local primary school because he had to stay close to his parents, and the younger works at a local factory for the same reason.
The older man's only adventure in life is an annual two-week holiday with his wife at a downmarket coastal town that sounds very much like the one he spends the rest of the year in, and at the end of the play the young couple decide to take their holiday in the same place.
The younger man does hope for promotion in his job, and might even take some classes to improve his chances, but the signs and portents are not promising.
So, the play seems to be saying, it is very easy to sink into a rut without even noticing, and very hard and scary to take any steps to avoid that.
The German Skerries are partially submerged rocks that ships entering or leaving the estuary must be piloted past, and stand, I would guess, for the risks of straying too far from safe haven.
The problem is that we know too little about these people to sense what, if anything, is going on inside them.
At least as directed here by Alice Hamilton, neither Howard Ward (older), George Evans (younger), Henry Everett (pal) or Katie Moore wife) can find more than generic types – the shrunken nonentity, the lad with promise but not enough gumption, etc. – to play.
Meanwhile the play is strewn with stray or trying-too-hard symbols (the schoolteacher's bicycle tyres go flat), an ecological theme (local factory is polluting the water, chasing away the birds) is clumsily grafted on, and that fourth character never really seems part of this play.
It takes a playwright with the genius of Chekhov or at least the talent of Arthur Miller to show us the large dramas in small lives. Otherwise all we see is nothing much happening, very slowly, to people we don't really know or care about.
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Review - German Skerries - Orange Tree Theatre 2016