Omnibus Theatre, London – until 17 February 2019
Set just after WWII, Jean Anouilh’s black comedy The Orchestra is set in a French café during an evening performance when the harmony in the playing isn’t matched by the musicians’ conversations between pieces.
Mme. Hortense (Amanda Osborne), the leader of the orchestra, flirts with piano player M. Leon (Pedro Casarin) which inflames jealousy in his lover Suzanne (Stefania Licari). And while the tension increases between the three, the rest of the orchestra bicker, show off and complain about their lives.
The manager of the cafe prowls the auditorium watching the musicians, an authoritarian figure who serves as a reminder of the country’s recent German occupation. Amid the domestic chat, there are hints of accusations about collusion with the enemy and a determination to prove otherwise – violinist Patricia (Luna Dai) claims she played out of tune on purpose when there were Germans in the audience.
However, what The Orchestra paints is a vivid picture of a nation struggling to find its identity. Emotionally bruised and traumatised – and perhaps ashamed – all the characters seem to be searching for some sort of validation. When tragedy strikes you see the degree to which they are numbed by past events.
The nature of the setting makes The Orchestra a static play although director Kristin Landon-Smith works in movement wherever possible. Spotlights fall on individual conversations although it still feels like there is a disconnect with the musicians sat on the back rows.
The cast enthusiastically mimes to the jolly musical interludes but they end up dragging rather than adding to the piece, perhaps some live playing would work better?
Anouilh’s humour doesn’t ignite as well as it probably should but The Orchestra is otherwise an interesting snapshot of a period of social history that is often overlooked.
Luna Dai plays Patricia. Photo: Jacob Malinksi
It is 50 minutes and I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️.