Monday, 16 November 2009

The Making of Moo – Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

The Making of Moo
Writer: Nigel Dennis
Director: Sam Walters
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree

In 1957 when this play had its first performance it was probably considered shocking but now, with the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens sounding out the atheist trumpet at every turn it loses any impact. What did the author hope to achieve? That every Christian from the Archbishop of Canterbury down to me would see it and immediately renounce the faith? To do that would take more than an unsubtle parody. Did he believe that if all religion were to be abolished the human race would live together in a spirit of justice and peace? However every cliché raises an indulgent smile as they pour from the characters who feel they have to invent their own god and its theology to replace a river-god destroyed by the building of a dam.

Directed by Sam Walters, the play begins in the colonial days of Africa with the ceremonial completion of this project which started all the trouble. The three main characters, the engineer in charge of the project, (Philip York) his longsuffering wife (Amanda Royle) and their assistant, the Old Africa Hand (Duncan Wisbey) play their stereotypical parts well but Ben Onwukwe who plays the general factotum, William, is an actor who can speak volumes with his eyes alone.

Also admirable were Christopher Staines who doubles as an ancient and, in the circumstances, understandably nervous, solicitor in one scene only to reappear as a bombastic philanthropist in the next. Equally versatile is James Woolley, verbose and confident first as Christopher Staines’ partner and then as the cold and harshly adherent adult son.

The remaining three cast members (Stuart Burgess, Jermaine Dominique and Joel Kangudi also double first as scene setters in the opening fight, admirably arranged by Philip D’Orleans, and later as mad acolytes and musicians in Act II. Stuart Burgess is also the Stage Manager and deftly organises the atmospheric sets of Tim Meacok and Robyn Wilson.

John Harris’s lighting, hot African sun, spinning during the opening chaos and blood red in the “worship” add to the drama but the music and sound of Matthew Strachan are even more important and almost ever present. The costumes by Katy Mills reflect the period well and are suitably improvised looking in the second act and studiously ridiculous in the last. Make up, especially beards, are excellent although perhaps Elizabeth should not look quite so well preserved in her position as grande dame.

The Making of Moo is a play of its time but that time is past.

Photos: Robert Day
Runs until Sat 12th Dec
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