Pros: This bittersweet fable for the modern age explores both trauma and coming of age, with strong performances from its cast.
Cons: The central mystery of the play is drawn out for a little too long, before speeding to an abrupt finish.
Grinter packs a lot of big binary themes into his 75-minute debut play; the innocence of childhood against the cynicism of adulthood, the call of a wide, porous world versus the resistance of a small, bordered community and the inclusion of those who strive to belong, versus the exclusion of misfits. There’s also a hint of the Selkie Myth of the seal people found in Scottish, Irish and Faroese traditional folklore, of that mysterious “other” and how an outsider or a rebel might be received. Some of these parallels are navigated better than others, but they all buoy the heart of the play – the struggle to transcend victimhood and to be heard and validated, a battle worth fighting even if it fails.
Greek Tragedy often pivots on what is called the moment of recognition. A discovery is made, often one that is shocking or horrifying, and that moves the characters from ignorance to knowledge just as Adam and Eve might discovered their nakedness after eating from the tree of knowledge. The expectation of this moment of recognition underscores much of Orca, where what happens after a ‘choice’ remains veiled in secrecy until almost the very end. This conceit is stretched out for slightly too long, and then unravels in a burst of activity that brings the play to an abrupt close. I would have loved to sit with the female characters for one more scene. Their struggle for agency doesn’t feel complete, and the deliberate lack of resolution unfortunately means that the play feels unfinished, rather than what I think is intended to be a complex, open-ended question.
Where Orca shines is in the exceptional pairing of Morison and Langley as sisters and confidantes in a single father family. Their chemistry carries the play even in its weaker moments. Morison plays a taut, compelling Maggie, walking on a razor’s edge in her desire to protect her younger sister. Langley is an excellent foil as the whimsical, imaginative Fan, her guilelessness and charm bringing sweetness to an otherwise heavy text. Grinter’s lyrical writing is sometimes at odds with the earthiness of village conversation, but the five-member ensemble (rounded off by Simon Gregor, Ellie Turner and Aden Gillett) makes it work.
The production design also makes the most of the cozy black box space, inviting the audience in with a stage floor carpeted in gravel beneath a creaky wooden pier, punctuated by the cry of gulls and the rush of waves, and the actors’ feet crunching on sand. Just like the ocean, Orca summons the peaceful and the familiar before taking it apart, knowing that beneath a calm surface lie deep, unpredictable currents that can tear us asunder.
Author: Matt Grinter
Director: Alice Hamilton
Producer: Chris Foxon
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking Link: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/orca/
Booking Until: 26 November 2016