The programme notes aptly describe The Orchestra at the Omnibus Theatre, which might be regarded as one of Jean Anouilh’s more incidental pieces. “A third-rate orchestra in a small French spa town play time worn musical arrangements to an indifferent audience.” What adds a degree of intrigue and lifts that rather unprepossessing yet accurate summation are the revelations concerning the private lives of the players and the relationships that exist between the members of the modest septet. Scattered among the musical interludes and occasionally during them we are treated to the voyeuristic pleasure of conversations and rants that reveal what is beneath the overtly calm exterior of a seemingly affable group of professionals bound to their seats and instruments.
A rare opportunity to see this work.
Kristine Landon-Smith’s direction leaves the play as largely static; a condition imposed to a considerable degree by being about musicians in performance. Moments that break from this format feel that they are deliberately created to provide some relief, but suffer from cramped conditions within the confines of the stage. The ensemble cast is commendably international, but therein lies a problem. Much of the dialogue seems hurried and it is difficult to tune into a particular accent as they range from Glasgow to Brazil, the north of England to the USA and France to China via Canada. The issue is heightened in moments of impassioned dialogue that deal with frustrated romance or a child in need of discipline or an aging parent.
Felix Cross has composed music that is light and cleverly banal, in keeping with the intentions of Anouilh. It befits the setting and does little to lift the lives of those playing or hearing it. Quite why Sue Mayes, in charge of costumes, decided it was appropriate for the cast to don Mexican mariachi sombreros for the Cuban interlude remains a mystery and made it somewhat comic. Julian Starr, already nominated in the 2019 Off West End Theatre Awards, works his magic in demonstrating the effectiveness of sound localisation. The band tried various ways in rehearsals to ensure that not a squeak came out of their instruments and were successful in that respect, Starr anchors the sound in the heart of the onstage musicians to give an authentic performance effect. Lighting by Angus Chisholm provides the warmth associated with the intimacy of a French brasserie that also serves to create the illusion that all is well; it is the surface veneer that appropriately camouflages the bitter wrangling.
The Orchestra is a curious piece that in this production reaches neither the depths of tragedy in the stories that are related nor the heights of comedy in the few humorous lines, but it is a rare opportunity to see this work performed.