Sunday, 18 November 2007

REVIEW: "They Have Oak Trees in North Carolina"

In the midst of Maddy-Mania, the subject of missing children appears daily in newspapers across Britain. Cashing in on good timing, Theatre 503 have mounted a production of Sarah Wooley’s They Have Oak Trees in North Carolina, currently running at the Tristan Bates.

Oak Trees looks at the quieter end of child abduction, long after the media have lost interest. Ray and Eileen, a pair of pensioners living in a small English village, are confronted by a visitor from the American south claiming to be their son, kidnapped some 22 years earlier. Ray is suspicious, but Eileen takes to the man, eager for her prayers to have been answered. As questions and conflicts between the characters are raised, new truths emerge from all parties.

Besides its topical subject matter, Oak Trees is an intriguing play for its sense of structure: except for the penultimate conflict, all of the scenes are presented as a series of intimate two-handers. As a result, Ray and Eileen are given focus as the situation begins to create rifts in their marriage and realities. Adding to the mystery is the lighting, which keeps the cast visible yet in a permanent shadow, mirroring the half truths coming from the text: everybody is holding back, and nothing is entirely revealed. Taking a nod from the film world, instrumental background music is used to great effect, underscoring the key moments of conflict and revelation.

While some may be sick of the constant updates on what Maddy’s parents ate for breakfast, They Have Oak Trees in North Carolina is an intense, psychological look at those required to cope with the aftermath of familial tragedy.

Where: Tristan Bates Theatre @ The Actors’ Centre
When: Tu-Sa @ 7:30 PM until 1 Dec.
Cost: £12 General Admission
Concessions: £8 for the usuals
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £12. Well acted, well paced, and while not a life-changer, fairly priced. Fans of dramatic plays and one-acts will feel they got their money’s worth.
RZ Other Notes: The long week took its toll on getting this one out in a timely manner (posted early Sunday morning for a Thursday night performance), so the RZ may not have said as much as he was originally planning. The review for Electronica: The Musical will be coming faster, promise. Also, due to no cast information online and no free cast list at the house (programmes are even hidden - get one at the green room bar if you want to pay), there’s no cast details in the review. The three members are all solid.

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