The premise of The Orange Tree Theatre’s first collaboration with The Actor’s Touring Company and Theatre Royal Plymouth makes for an interesting evening. Written by Maya Arad Yasur, an award winning playwright, it tells the story of an unnamed pregnant Israeli violinist living in an apartment in Amsterdam. One day, a mysterious unpaid gas bill from 1944 arrives under her door, and so ensues an unravelling of a mystery that touches on ideas around identity, foreignness and the longevity of the past.
Told as a story; the actors begin by arguing about how they should proceed to tell the story. Then they begin to cut and change into different characters, going off on different tangents, whilst eventually answering the question around the gas bill. Instantaneously, the repetition and bickering amongst the storytellers can cause irritation, with the skittish style of the storytelling leading to an overabundance of unexplored complex issues. An example of this is when one of the actor’s shouts ‘ISIS’, the other responds with ‘What in the world has ISIS got to do anything’, and the reply is ‘Dunno…my mind just suddenly went ISIS’ – leaving a sense of unease hanging in the air.
Commendations do need to go to the four actors, who keep their energy throughout the demanding performance, dealing well with the blend in languages and subsequent rapid explanations of the foreign words they use. Likewise, Matthew Xia directs them well in the round, cleverly utilising the full space of The Orange Tree.
When addressed fully, the intricacies of the unfurling 1944 tale are interesting, along with the shockingly true historical facts presented. Especially as some of these facts seem obvious, but have never been addressed, such as who was paying the gas bill.
The subjects Yasur brings to light in Amsterdam are all important and relevant to our current climate, yet the nature of their telling means they lose their weight, become too entangled with other issues or simply get lost within repeated lines about mundane things like whether or not someone has knocked on the door.