Mottled Lines at the Orange Tree Theatre – the riots come to Richmond.

Mottled Lines at the Orange Tree Theatre

Those riots that set parts of London ablaze last summer rattled the nation, the government sprang into instant over-reaction and blanket condemnation, the media revelled in analysis mixed with hysteria, and the public swung backwards and forwards in horror, sympathy and, yes, fear.
Now those riots have taken to the stage, well not literally, in a thoughtful and fair-minded play by first time playwright Archie Maddocks whose script was discovered and developed by the Orange Tree Theatre’s New Writers’ Group that happens to be run by my friend and relative, Henry Bell who also directed this the play’s first production at the Orange Tree Theatre where it will run until the end of the week. 

Charles Mnene (The Fear)

Fear was the main theme of Mottled Lines – fear that comes from lack of communication between individuals trapped in their own worlds and maybe their own prejudices too. Archie Maddocks bravely reduced the thousands of people involved in last year’s riots to a cast of five individuals who had to act both as stereotypes and as unstereotypical flesh and blood. The actors had to bring across their message in a series of lengthy monologues delivered to an audience in the round with the theatre lights very definitely up. The triumph of the production and the writing was that it worked so well.

Akiya Henry (The Sparkle)

Those monologues were not solitary pieces of introspection, they were really, as are all great exercises in this form, dialogues with the audience so it was truly effective that the audience was lit and often confronted directly by the actors playing neatly on our fears and prejudices too. Three loud cheers for theatre in the round.  It was great too to see the audience was so diverse in age, race and class so three cheers for the Orange Tree Theatre too for showing us that theatre doesn’t have to be a cosy dialogue between the middle classes.

Michael Elkin (The Fight)

Three cheers too for the play’s sense of humour and fun whilst dealing with a subject that is serious, sociologically and politically complex and liable to suffer from worthy liberal-minded earnestness. Mottled Lines is deadly serious but it wears its ideas with a gracefully light touch and a level of gentle sympathy for all the characters, even the silver-tongued Cameronesque Prime Minister, to a point almost beyond the call of duty.


Gabeen Khan (The Wolf)

This was not just five actors standing and delivering the lines – the stage not only came alive with the energy on display but it almost disappeared as we were drawn closer into the action. If Charles Mnene, as The Fear dominated the proceedings with charm and emotion mixed with just the right amount of threat then his was the central voice. Michael Elkin, The Fight, was an earnestly believable policeman trying to bring understanding to the crazed world that he has to patrol by watching Natural History TV programmes but also showing that if cornered he could be very nasty indeed. Gabeen Khan was, possibly even more threatening as The Wolf, the charming historian and social-commentator whose ornithological observations in the park were pure social poison Gabeen Khan held plenty of venom in reserve only letting it out when we thought he’d lulled us away from imminent danger. Steven Elder, Silver Tongue,  was convincing too as everything we dislike about our current batch of PR politicians pushing our capacity for sympathy to an extreme when we were asked to feel sorry for this posh kid sent to boarding school an a very impresionable age.

Akiya Henry genuinely sparkled as The Sparkle, the lone female voice in this mostly masculine-voiced play. In many ways she had the most difficult role of all, vulnerable, sassy and funny, she also had to bring the most intense sense of fear to the proceedings and had to convince even when the play moved into its least convincing theme.  She tells us that her fear is limited by her sense that her life already feels dead. Here Archie Maddocks tried too hard to win it both ways when we felt that The Sparkle’s sparkle, in spite of her perceived frailty, would never willingly be snuffed out. Perhaps Mr Maddocks was too ready to make the only woman in the piece the most obvious victim but Akiya Henry’s charisma carried us over several awkward bumps in a script that is mostly weaved with inspired and golden threads.

Steven Elder (Silver Tongue)

The production was a huge success for all involved and it deserves a wide viewing so if there is any way that you can get to see it, book now – sadly it has, for the moment, only a week to run. For details of the Orange Tree Theatre look at my LINKS column on the right of this blog.

Mottled Lines by Archie W Maddocks
Directed by Henry Bell
10 – 14 July 2012
Orange Tree Theatre.

Photos © Mawgan Gyles

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