Plays created specifically for teenagers are few and far between, so when a work actually comes along, that’s a great thing. When it is as exquisitely crafted, brave and beautiful as Hot Orange at Half Moon theatre, new writing from Amal Khalidi and Tatenda Naomi Matsvai, well that’s just extraordinary.
One hot summer, Tandeki (Matsvai) and Amina (Yasmin Twomey) meet on the basketball court and a friendship like no other blossoms. Despite being from very different cultures, they develop an undeniable but problematic relationship that smoulders hot orange like the vibrant basketball they pass. Ultimately they are driven apart by societal prejudice and familial control, until a decade on they find each other again and negotiate the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Giving visibility to youths from underrepresented sections of society, Hot Orange is complex, unique, provocative, humorous and heart-warming. Amina has a North African background and is Muslim, whilst Tandeki is of African descent and Christian. The compelling storyline deftly navigates their friendship, family and cultural pressures, self-identity and a LGBTQ+ relationship.
Designer Sorcha Corocoran’s immersive staging has the audience share the space of the basketball court and playground where the pair play and compete. They are asked to actively participate; helping with props, or snacking on Hula Hoops, making them share common space with Tandeki and Amina. When I saw the show the audience was almost entirely female; an unusual event in itself, but the intimate staging seemed to cleverly define a safe space where post-show conversations with young people about delicate subjects rarely discussed publicly, might occur.
Twomey and Matsvai have a wonderful chemistry, sensitively and engagingly portraying the developing relationship between two very different – yet entirely similar – people, across a decade. They are playful, protective, vulnerable and confused, angry and forgiving in turns. It’s an absolute joy to watch as they seamlessly draw in the young audience using direct eye contact, weaving everyone into the same story; sharing questions and seeking solutions. The additional characters Amina and Tandeki enact are great fun, adding humour, but also demonstrating the wider cultural influences that conflict with their hopes and desires. Matsvai in particular is enormously charismatic and dynamic, as Tandeki experiences a full range of emotions from deep anxiety to ecstatic joy. The way they physically transform into a teenage boy before our eyes as they portray the brother is hilarious.
The lyricism within the storytelling is just marvellous, with vivid, emotive vocabulary that suggests spoken word verse. It bonds the two in a dance of discovery as they navigate their dilemmas. Director Chris Elwell paces the bold storyline with subtlety, incrementally raising tensions as the two disparate cultural words orbit each other, until they clash and the consequence of their taboo relationship become shockingly apparent. A same sex kiss brought astonished gasps from the young audience, proving the importance of using a safe space such as this to openly broach the topic of LGBTQ+ partnerships, where it might otherwise lack recognition.
It’s early days for this production; the sound levels seemed a little high on the day, and the lighting might yet develop in more helpfully descriptive ways, but there’s nothing here that can’t be tweaked and the whole is a great success.
This is daring new writing and an enjoyable watch for teens and adults alike. We are enormously lucky to have such quality work in the children’s theatre sector, but I could easily see this production going on to be played at leading-edge venues like the Bush or the Kiln. I am excited to see what heights it and its writers reach in the future.
You can read more about this show in our recent interview with Tatenda Naomi Matsvai here.
Written by: Amal Khalidi and Tatenda Naomi Matsvai
Director: Chris Elwell
Designer: Sorcha Corcoran
Sound Designer and Composer: Johnny Tomlinson
Produced by Half Moon Theatre
Hot Orange is aimed at ages 13+ and an adult audience. It runs at Half Moon Theatre from 9 – 14 November, then returns on 2 December. More information and bookings can be found here. For full tour dates and a trailer visit here.