Orange Tree Theatre, once again, has a stunning new production running. This touching play, written by the remarkable Zoe Cooper, spans themes of gender identity, sexuality, new environments, and hardship. A delicately written script, along with circular staging and a trio of talented performers, made this a show to remember.
The story follows middle-class Londoner Claire (Lucy Briggs-Owen) moving to her wife Kit’s (Zoe West) north-eastern coastal hometown, South Shields, to have their baby. As she starts her new job in a school, she encounters Fish (Tilda Wickham), a gender-fluid pupil who she begins to mentor. The three actors undertake more roles than just this, and they succinctly switch between characters impressively. West stood out to me in this regard, slipping between the charming and confident Kit, curmudgeonly senior male teacher, and underachieving, chavvy teenage student, with ease. I wish we had seen more of Kit, and her interactions with Claire – it was quite focussed on Claire (despite a brilliant job by Briggs-Owen) and her struggling to adapt to her new environment, but I’m guessing it was meant to be this way. I just really fell in love with Kit’s boyish charm and affection and wish she’d been a bigger part of the storyline. Wickham really shone in their entrancing monologue, lip-syncing nature documentary excepts and utilising fluid hand movements to mimic fish the subject matter.
It was refreshing to see a play centred around queer characters, especially a femme/soft butch couple coping with soon-to-be parenthood and a new environment, which provoked many thoughts and insecurities in them. Kit is self-assured and has no qualms about being back in her old-fashioned, slightly backwards, hometown. However, Claire struggles both with people always assuming she’s straight to the point where she doesn’t correct them anymore, and also with the disapproving sneers towards affection between her and her wife by people in her new environment, including Kit’s own family.
Moments of comedy are well-timed and effective, and moments of tenderness or frustration are articulated, or not articulated perfectly. This is something Cooper does often – sentences are left unfinished, particularly if they refer to sexuality or violence, yet the audience knows exactly what to ‘fill the blank’ in with. The singing by West and Wickham between acts is evocative, almost melancholic.
I loved this, and simply put, we need more plays like this. With strong performances and a poignant script, you can’t go wrong with this show, and you have until June to catch it at the Orange Tree Theatre.
- 5 stars