Sunday, 3 May 2009

Factors Unforeseen - Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

Factors Unforeseen by Michel Vinaver
Director: Sam Walters
Reviewer: James Higgins

This is the sixth play by French writer Michel Vinaver that Orange Tree theatre has produced over the last few years. A La Renverse (Factors Unforeseen) was first written in 1979 and when it was produced used just six actors to play the 29 roles. This edition has been translated by Catherine Crimp, her first translation for full public performance.The play is a harsh expose of global capitalism and the story behind a French cosmetics company with a popular sun tan lotion as its premier product.

When a popular member of the royal family, princess Benedicte, agrees to be interviewed at her home to document the last few weeks of her battle against skin cancer, the tide of public opinion starts to turn and sales of the product begin to fall dramatically with inevitable consequences for all 800 staff from board room to factory floor. The play starts with multiple dialogues from all around the room where conflicting voices gave different accounts of the subject at the same time the narrator began to set the scene. This was a clever idea and an interesting spin on the story but did slightly interrupt the protagonist in his story telling, and some audience members appeared confused by this subtlety.

After the frantic start the pace continued to quicken and despite the slightly dry theme and corporate setting the interactive space that the Orange Tree theatre provides as a backdrop worked extremely well in helping to make the audience feel part of the action. In a larger venue some of the frenetic action may well have been lost on the viewer and it would have been harder to keep them as captivated.

The set (designed by Tim Meacock) was simplistic but perfect, consisting of just 4 white benches and one centre table. The interaction of the 20 strong ensemble was at times staggering as the action swung between Cincinnati office to royal home and from Paris airport to factory floor with boardroom antics interspersed sometimes with just a second in between. At times some boardroom scenes were so frenetic you could see the spittle fly from the actors mouths as the tension and intensity grew within the company.

It was such a strong collective display that it was really hard to single out individual performances for special mention. Paul Gilmore did however stand out, delivering a powerful performance as the beleaguered MD (Aubertin) as the boardroom battles raged. The dialogue between the dying princess (Rebecca Egan) and TV interviewer (Christopher Naylor) also merits a special mention for its moving authentic portrayal of a young woman keen to convey her personal feelings in her last weeks to a clever media figure who knows what questions to ask to create maximum publicity for the channel.

Factors Unforeseen was a brilliant, original piece of theatre that captivated and compelled the audience. Despite its running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes with no interval, the time flew by, as action filled nearly every second of the play. A unique take on global capitalism by one of France's leading writers, performed in the intimate surroundings of Orange Tree theatre is an enjoyable experience that should not be missed !

Factors Unforseen runs at the Orange Tree until Sat 30th May
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