‘Susannah van den Berg has great energy’: ORANGES & ELEPHANTS – Hoxton Hall

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews, Sticky by Olivia MitchellLeave a Comment

Hoxton Hall, London – until 10 February 2018
Guest reviewer: Nicola Louise

Originally conceived in 2013 by Lil Warren, Oranges and Elephants tells the story of two female gangs in London in the Victorian era. The ‘Oranges’, a girl gang in Brixton led by their boss Flo, played by Kate Adams, and the ‘Elephants’, an Irish girl gang bonded by the family code, based in Elephant and Castle’s Woolworth road.

The staging in Hoxton Hall brings some authenticity to the musical. The old music hall creates a great backdrop for the narrator (the Chair) played by Susannah van den Berg, and her piano player Doreen, played by one of the co-founders of the inclusive theatre pioneers Chickenshed, Jo Collins.

Van den Berg has great energy and as soon as the show starts has the crowd laughing, using her large personality to engage the crowd. There is also a great chemistry with Collins and their witty banter is non-stop.

The girls in the gang all play instruments, either from the wings or on stage, playing the violin, cello, flute… This approach is used very well and it allows the cast to be a part of the orchestra as well as the show.

As the show goes on, Ada (Rebecca Bainbridge), second in command of the Oranges,  tries a little too hard to bring her character to life. Ada is a psychopath, and although that came across very well in Bainbridge’s performance, it becomes a bit uneasy to understand what she is doing with the gender of her character.

Ada is still female, but every move Bainbridge took, I couldn’t figure out if Ada was meant to be in a girl gang or wanted to be apart of the male gangs that ran Soho and Piccadilly.My other issue with the Oranges was their leader, Flo. Now Flo was mentioned in the show as the ‘worst female in London’, she was scary, people were frightened of her, unfortunately, Adams was neither. I wasn’t convinced of her leadership within the gang, she looked too soft and the delivery of her lines didn’t make me feel anything towards her.
The Elephants, led by Annie (Liz Kitchen) with second in command, Nellie (Christina Tedders) were great. Tedders was full of energy and made the role her own and diverse; playing the thief but also the lost little girl who just wanted to sing.When Nellie meets Mary, a young girl from the black country played by Sinead Long who had been captured by the Oranges, you start to feel sorry for both girls, they want to sing in music halls but have somehow been caught up in a life of crime.Both girls performances were very strong, Long, was very convincing as a scared girl, on her own for the first time in London.This musical isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I can see why people enjoy it, there also an extra added bonus of the sing along, everyone got song sheets and Van der Berg got the audience singing with no hesitation.

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