Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, London (***)
Robert Holman has long been a favourite, ever since seeing Making Noise Quietly and Other Worlds in the early ‘80s. So Orange Tree and Up in Arms revival of one of his very early works is very welcome.
Alice Hamilton’s Up in Arms, the company who brought us Barney Norris’ excellent Visitors (winner of Critics Circle Best New Play 2014) would seem to be a perfect fit.
Like Holman, Norris observes the ifs and buts of ordinary people’s lives with acute and tender detail. Holman, who writes from intuition he confesses, has produced a stream of little gems of understated diffidence and human intersections which often feel far too genuine to have been written to suit today’s, or yesterday’s fashion for that matter.
In German Skerries, not a great deal happens. A primary school teacher and a young manual worker meet whilst bird-watching. They chat about the birds, the landscape (wonderfully conjured in words); later the young man’s girl-friend, Carol will join him. During the course of the evening an event will happen that upsets her. And she and Jack will discuss the future.
And that’s about it. But of course, there is a good deal going on in the idle chat – about feeling old (it’s a mark of how things have changed in the 39 years since German Skerries premiered that 59 is no longer considered `old’); about ambition and choices from the independent minded Carol.
In such a play of quiet subtleties, hopes and limitations, the acting is everything, as is a sense of place. Hamilton gets the sense of place – the north east coast – absolutely right with sounds of crashing surf.
But a little disappointingly, the in-the-round Orange Tree somehow mitigates against a sense of space. Holman’s characters work best cast in relief. Individuals dwarfed by the infinite largesse of our universe yet carving out their own small destinies can be a thrilling sight.
George Evans Jack, Howard Ward’s older Martin and Katie Moore’s spirited Carol all breathe air, light and shade into their characters. The writing is as true and beguiling as ever. But somewhere, it misses a beat.
German Skerries runs at the Orange Tree to April 2, 2016
Review first published in Reviewsgate, March 2016 and slightly amended here.