Fanta Orange

Sally Woodcock
Finborough Theatre
(2011)

Fanta Orange publicity photo

Nobody could deny that Sally Woodcock's debut play, Fanta Orange, has its heart in the right place. The playwright seeks to explore the devastation that AIDS has wrought on East Africa through the eyes of a highly intelligent trio living in the Kenyan heartlands.

While much of the focus rests on Roger and Ronnie, the impossibly incompatible White couple that we meet in the opening scene, the character around whom the action really revolves is their house girl and our narrator Regina, played with great sensitivity by Kehinde Fedipe.

She has been infected with HIV following a gang rape by drunken British soldiers and as a result her people have cast the girl out. Regina has also become twice pregnant, the second time following an encounter with Jay Villiers' Roger, which he believes stems from love but to a court would sound suspiciously like a second rape.

Into this claustrophobic household breezes beautiful, blonde Ronnie, a couple of decades younger than Roger and wearing her learning and Ph.D. very heavily. Jessica Ellerby performs well, playing a character who has been written entirely to convey messages rather than behave coherently.

Throughout, Ronnie changes her views with the wind, starting in the opening scenes in which she tries desperately to beat off the advances of the bearded farmer before suggesting marriage the same night. Her attempts to provide health and happiness to the natives can only be commended, even though her idealism is designed to backfire.

Conveniently, Ronnie not only has the brains but the cash, since her family owns half of Shropshire. This not only digs out impecunious Roger but leaves his future wife in what appears to be an impregnable position after she mysteriously gains ownership of the family farm having failed to explain the meaning of the papers that he signs blindly. This perhaps is poetic justice, as a response to the lies with which he has seduced her.

However, it is best to judge Fanta Orange by its own values rather than pointing up illogicalities. At its best, it explores the pain that Regina has suffered and continues to suffer as she sees the man that she loves taken by another woman.

While the dramaturgy may not be all that one would desire, the message comes through loud and clear and the acting under the excellent direction of Gareth Machin is strong, though quite where Jay Villiers is trying to place his accents is not always clear.

Finally, as so often at the Finborough, the set design of Alex Marker is a joy to behold. He somehow creates the wooden house in which the trio reside on the tiny stage, while cleverly finding space for a bed and furnishings all of which seem absolutely complete, no doubt on an almost non-existent budget.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher