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In the Night Time. Photo: Robert Day

The Future of Theatre

20 July 2018 Rosa Johnston-Flint

The New Directors Festival sees three emerging directors take over the tiny-but-mighty Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. A great opportunity for them – and maybe an even better one for theatre-goers, with all tickets priced at only £8.50, or you can see two plays in an evening for £15. The Orange Tree Theatre has championed new directing talent for decades, putting on trainee directors since the 80s, but surprisingly the Festival has only officially been running since 2017, created as a showcase for the Orange Tree and St Mary’s University’s new MA in Theatre Directing.

Katie Johnstone is a new play by Luke Barnes, directed by Samson Hawkins, which tells the story of a young woman whose ambition and imagination exceed the mundane reality of her circumstances. Filled with northern soul, starry skies, “extreme gardening” and a fox, Katie Johnstone is a celebration of youthful passion and belief.

Georgia May Hughes in Katie Johnstone. Photo: Robert Day

Dominique Chapman directs Precious Little Talent by Ella Hickson. Set in New York around Christmas 2008, just before the inauguration of President Obama, it sits on the cusp of past and future, where Brits and Americans, comedy and tragedy, collide. This gorgeous collage of festive, fairytale New York is a must-see.

In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises) by Nina Segal is directed by Evangeline Cullingworth. Two new parents try to soothe their baby daughter with stories, but the stories tell of a dark and hopeless world outside. Segal’s play first premiered at the Gate Theatre in 2016, and this searing exploration of contemporary parenthood is no less explosive today.

Ziggy Heath and Anna Leong Brophy in In the Nighttime. Photo: Robert Day

With only one performance space, the three plays are on rotation, the stage masterfully reset between the first performance at 7pm and next one at 9pm. From a comic-book Northwest of England to a moody New York City to a nursery filled with dreams and nightmares – you step back into a totally different production (although anyone watching both Katie Johnstone and Precious Little Talent may notice one cheeky prop potentially making a cameo in both!)

And on the subject of rotation – the Orange Tree is London’s only permanent theatre in the round, so the directors have also risen to the challenge of imagining these plays for a 360-degree delivery, which gives them an extra impetus for movement, to keep the audience wrapped around the action.
These plays defiantly fill the small space with big narratives that weave between several locations. They feature impressive use of physical theatre and dance to press back against the audience seeping in at the edge of the stage, achieving an almost filmic quality at times, with hints of Human Traffic or La La Land.

Rebecca Collingwood and Matt Jessup in Precious Little Talent. Photo: Robert Day

The directors’ efforts really come to life thanks to thoughtful and often ingenious choices for lighting and music. Necessity is the mother of invention as they say, and the Orange Tree team have come up with some novel ways to illuminate these plays and fill them with a vibrant soundscape, despite the practicality of stage sets appearing and disappearing every night.
Aside from shining a spotlight on new directing talent, these productions are otherwise fully professional in terms of cast and crew. The standards are incredibly high, and the casting by Rebecca Murphy (formerly of the Orange Tree Theatre, now at The Globe) completes a package that has given Hawkins, Chapman and Cullingworth the chance to truly demonstrate their ability as directors.

Last year The End of Hope directed by MA alumnus Max Elton transferred to the Soho Theatre after its Orange Tree festival run. If this is what can be achieved after only two years, it’s clear the Orange Tree New Directors Festival is onto something – and its plays really are ones to watch.
 
 
Katie Johnstone is playing 19 July at 7.00pm | 17, 20 July at 9.00pm
Precious Little Talent is playing 19 July at 9.00pm | 18, 21 July at 7.00pm
In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises) is playing 20 July at 7.00pm | 18, 21 July at 9.00pm

The Orange Tree Theatre New Directors Festival is running from 13-21 July 2018.
 
 
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