Strange Orchestra

Rodney Ackland
Orange Tree, Richmond
(2004)

Rodney Ackland is one of many playwrights that the Orange Tree's Sam Walters has resurrected from obscurity. Strange Orchestra is the fifth Ackland to be produced there and, while it is very much of its time, the revival is worthwhile.

This 1930s tale of the bright young things who live in the massive Pimlico flat of the dreadfully dissolute Vera, given wonderful life by Ishia Bennison, is constantly entertaining.

Unlike a standard Shakespearean comedy, here almost everyone finds love in the first act, but then it all breaks down with amusing and occasionally painfully sad consequences in the next two.

Ackland likes to fill his plays with weird characters and Vera's Bohemian abode is no exception. The play is filled with interesting arty people, most of them overly sensitive and neurotic highbrows. In his hands, even a dull couple are hilarious.

The best of the young cast's acting under debutante director, Ellie Jones comes from Ian Duncan as the caddish Peter and Laura Rees and Claudia Elmhirst as the contrasting daughters of the hostess. Inevitably at the Orange Tree, the costumes are also "divine darling".

Strange Orchestra may not be in the very highest class but the mixture of comedy and social comment, combined with an insight into the hedonistic lifestyle makes for an enjoyable evening.

On the strength of this piece, not to mention some of Evelyn Waugh's work, Bohemian life in the thirties must have been such fun!

Reviewer: Philip Fisher