Writers: Deborah Bruce, Joel Tan and Joe White
Director: Anna Himali Howard
Inside/Outside is a showcase of six new short plays with women at their centres. Played live on the Orange Tree’s stage, the first three plays comprising Inside prove to be a unqualified success.
The first piece, Deborah Bruce’s Guidesky and I is the best, starring Samantha Spiro as a middle-aged woman clearing out the house of her recently deceased mother. Diana doesn’t seem that upset; instead she’s caught up in an online shopping dispute. She thought she was buying a luxury cat cave for her mother’s cat, but when delivered it turned out to be shoddily made, and definitely not formed of the Merino wool she was expecting. She takes her anger out on the only contact she has for the company: Guidesky 125.
Set during the recent quarantine, Diana already seems an isolated figure and she is, as she admits, suspicious of everyone, even perhaps of the children across the road who are selling cupcakes for charity. It seems as if her life is closing down prematurely, and Spiro catches Diana’s blinkered loneliness magnificently in her mother’s room, full of dust-coated furniture. Sometimes Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lights seem more suited for stage than screen, but they emphasise the little life that Diana is living. It’s altogether a moving piece.
Also isolated is Meg is Joel Tan’s When The Daffodils, set sometime in the near future. However, Meg is desperate to escape and begs her carer to take her out. Samia says that she can’t and that she’s only popping in delver the Brussels sprouts that Meg wants for her Christmas lunch. As the two women chat over a glass of mulled wine, the play becomes more sinister as we sense that more than carer, Samira is a kind of gaoler.
Ishia Bennison is excellent as Meg, trying to work out what keeps her stuck in her room, not quite sure whether it’s her duty to stay put or not. Despite her flight feet in dancing to Christmas carols, Bennison gives Meg an endearing fragility. Jessica Murrian has a harder time of it as Samia, a character that does not feel real at all. But the most chilling part of the play is its reminder of how close we came to a scenario like this last year when experts discussed the best way to stem the spread of the virus.
The final play also features an excellent turn by its main actor, and as Callisto, a rough sleeper, Sasha Winslow is incredible, asking Jay(Fisayo Akinade, also good) If she can go to his house for a microwaved meal. Jay asks her how long she has been homeless, but Callisto doesn’t want to be defined by this state. She has a home: instead she is houseless.
She’s confident and resourceful – her blue hair seems proof of this – while Jay is hampered by anxiety and paranoia. Power dynamics slowly shift as they chat while waiting for the microwave to ping with her meal. She tells tall stories; he talks science. And they find a way to communicate.
Even though the plays run into each other – no intervals here – under Anna Himali Howard’s direction each feels very different, though linked nicely by Anna Clock’s sound design and melancholy piano. After the year we’ve had perhaps it’s right that these plays should be dark and brooding, and so Usra Major, with its chink of light, is placed well at the end.
Outside comes in April, and hopefully we will be outside too. But it’ll be worth staying in to watch the next three plays in this thoughtful series.
Runs here until 27 March 2021