Pros: An intriguing, intimate and introspective piece. A must for those who desire theatre that stimulates the mind.
Cons: Those without knowledge of the subject material may feel alienated.
Braving the gusts of Doris, I found my way from Gloucester Road to the friendly welcome of the Drayton Arms. A small amount of jiggery-pokery involving plastic glasses and the transferring of liquids, and I found myself sat in anticipation of an intriguing show. A brief disclaimer: I am a Brechtophile and was disposed to like whatever I saw based on the subject matter alone. However, the strength of Orbits was such that I feel no moral dilemma in recommending that you see it if you can.
As hinted, the plot involves Bertolt Brecht (playwright and theatrical theorist) meeting with Charles Laughton (an esteemed actor of the time, with a career slightly on the wane). They meet three times over the course of the play, spanning the gap between December 1944 and October 1947. The ostensible aim is to collaborate on an English version of Brecht’s play Life of Galileo. Historic events, creative differences and incompatible desires create meaningful conflicts, both between the characters in the privacy of Laughton’s rooms and in the world outside those walls.
It is character that defines, shapes and drives this play. Playwright Wally Sewell has drawn compelling versions of Brecht and Laughton. I felt that I knew these men: their desires, ambitions and their desperation. Even as they use each other, the weight of their relationship is undoubtable. Peter Saracen (Brecht) and Edmund Dehn (Laughton) have superb stage chemistry. Saracen’s intensity, passion and fear form an imperfect genius to the letter. I believed him utterly. Dehn’s Laughton is the perfect foil. Part nervous fan and part refined Hollywood statesman, Dehn brings a depth of character to the stage that renders him of constant interest. One is conscious of Laughton’s flaws even as he essays his virtues.
As befits a play about Brecht, when it comes to staging little is shown and much is suggested. The audience are invited to think for themselves, to judge the surroundings and the play not by emotion but by intellect. Costume works in a similar manner. Misdirection aside, it serves to strengthen the characters and our belief in the world they inhabit.
The play uses and explores several Brechtian devices, but stops short of becoming a Brechtian play about Brecht. Afterwards I was struck by the thought that so much of Brecht’s art mirrors truth. Whether you agree or not, it was the play that prompted me to think, and it’s hard to imagine a more Brechtian aim in drama. Why not find out what thoughts it provokes in you?
Author: Wally Sewell
Director: Anthony Shrubsall
Producer: Lucy Appleby
Box Office: 020 7835 2301
Booking Link: http://www.thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/component/jevents/eventdetail/310/-/orbits?Itemid=402
Booking Until: 11 March 2017