Does there have to be conflict between optimism and realism, or can they co-exist, even if it is in their own little bubble? This is just one of the many themes laced through Josh Barrow’s Nowhere Orange which is playing for two nights at Theatre N16.
The Red Road Tavern is the sanctuary of two writers, who dream of a world where words are God and stories take prominence, if only they could find a pen to write down their philosophical ramblings. Berniston (Maxwell Hayes) and Renford (Gabriel Akamo) spend their days drinking cloudy beer and playing games, all while plotting a revolution in a “war they’ve declared but never actively fought in.”
Just who or what presents itself as the enemy is left suitably ambiguous, but the arrival of Sam (Isobel Warner), a traveller and writer threatens to upset their way of life, as she brings with her the stories they wish they could write and the optimism they have been lacking.
Whether it’s really the end of the world, or just the end of the road, the set up feels distinctly dystopian. The derelict bar and tattered clothing all contribute to Berniston and Renford’s recollections of the past, while the talk of the enemy and references to “the Crassers” creates a sense of foreboding. Their cyclical existence is broken by the arrival of the stranger, allowing the characters to explore outside of their own suspicions, if not necessarily outside the bar.
The audience are left to fill in many of the gaps themselves, but it’s easy for each audience member to have their own take on what’s happening. This is mainly due to the way each individual character is drawn out, with their motivations clearly mapped as the play progresses. Fans of a neat ending may be disappointed, but then sometimes the fun comes in deciding how it all turns out for yourself.
Nowhere Orange hasn’t skimped on the staging, with a realistic bar set filled with authentic props, while director Leo Flanagan has made good use of the space, ensuring that the characters, although confined by their own story, are given ample opportunity to fill the space, all while moving with purpose.
Maxwell Hayes is particularly strong as Berniston, the young actor able to portray an older character through nuanced movements and tone of voice, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Alan Bennet in many of the ways he moved and spoke.
Josh Barrow has created in Nowhere Orange a challenging and layered piece of theatre which point blank refuses to give its audience easy answers. While the realist in me longed for a few more clues to the protagonist’s world, the optimist believes that this will appeal to the kind of people who want to ponder what they’ve seen, and discuss it at length with like minded friends, just as Berniston and Renford have become so accustomed to doing.