If you’re only going to read a little bit of this review, I want it to be this bit: Mottled Lines at The Orange Tree theatre in Richmond is only on for a week – GO!
The reason why? It is a play about us, about lonely voices singing songs from different scores, yet strangely in tune.
It’s difficult to know how to review this play without writing in metaphors. Motivated by the 2011 riots, Archie W Maddocks has written an intense exploration of the gathering discontent that exploded into the chaos of last summer. The five actors carry huge monologues, address them to the audience and ostensibly pontificate for an hour and a half without an interval. There, doesn’t sound so good does it? And it certainly doesn’t do it justice. I sat in my seat unerringly engaged, without once thinking beyond what I was watching, fascinated by these cultural ambassadors – voices speaking for something much deeper than politics, much broader than just last summer’s events. Speaking for what I came to believe must be presence. At first I thought it was courage, because fear was what they all expressed; then I thought it might be humanity, or community, or compassion. But it is all of these things – or rather the absence of them in society as a whole. And so, if absence is the cause, presence must be the cure. Of course, the arguments the characters make are varied and manifest themselves in such things as political ambition, cultural imprisonment and xenophobia. As you may have gathered, it is not a conventional play. I couldn’t describe a story, because the narrative is ongoing, we are living it still. There is something almost voyeuristic about it. More than once I felt as if I could have stopped in the street on any given day and witnessed the outpourings of the soul from one of these characters – someone who could no longer go on without erupting from the space inside where something feels absent.
In the programme the author divulges his inspiration for the characters, all manifestations of a type of suffocating fear. All of them are beguiling, from the seductive ‘Wolf’ (Gabeen Khan), who seems so endearing, but is infused with a passionate dislike of the ‘imperfections’ he believes have invaded British society; to the frustrated ‘Fight’ (Michael Elkin), the disempowered representative of the body of the law. They are all afraid of this absence of understanding, of humanity; although none of the characters were absent of it themselves.
The play is clever because somehow it escapes the turgid soup of mind numbing lecturing. Although it is packed to the brim with judgements and assumptions the characters make, it is not judgemental or belligerent itself; and although each character has an idea, or the shadow of an idea about a solution, the play offers none, but offers, in fact, this dilemma to you. And because it is delivered sensitively with truth and simplicity (hats off to the director, Henry Bell, who has had the courage to let the words do the work) by five excellent, perceptive actors, there is a sense of inclusiveness; we are invited to share in what we are already a part of. The play is so close to not being a play it feels alive; truly what Peter Brook might call ‘living theatre’.
Mottled Lines is at the Richmond Orange Tree until 14th July for more information or to book tickets please click here