Hello my name is James Moran, Dublin’s best comedian and comedy writer. I am 5’6”, barrel chested and cognitively normal. I am prone to bouts of jealousy and spite but I keep these feelings in check through mindful meditation and fermented foods.
I didn’t love The Water Orchard and I didn’t hate it either. The women behind me seemed to love The Water Orchard and the guy in front of me seemed to hate it. So I’m sort of in between those two points. I enjoyed it.
What is The Water Orchard? The Water Orchard is a play by Collapsing Horse Theatre that’s on in the Project Arts Centre at the moment. Tickets are €16-€20. Full disclosure: I didn’t pay for mine.
But what is The Water Orchard, really? Hmmm. The Water Orchard is all things to all men and then it’s some more things, and some of those things are GOOD and some of those things aren’t so GOOD and some of them are BAD. The basic plot is that there is a West Brit family where the Mother (Alcoholic) has gone missing and the Son (Disfigured/Manchild) and the Daughter (Shrewish) have to find her before a property investor comes to inspect the property. They hire a Detective (not really a detective) to find her. For some reason a Burglar appears at the house posing as a nurse to look after the Father. The Father is (Insane) and vanishes from the script in the second half of the play. It’s all a farce in the best sense of the word.
Please tell me more, I’m interested. Okay, I will. The Water Orchard is a comedy. It’s funny. It’s funny in the way a sitcom is funny. I have watched so many sitcoms that I’m qualified to make this point. I wake up, turn on my laptop (Macbook Air 2013) and log on to watchserie.sr and choose a show from there and I only turn it off when I leave the house (rarely) or go to sleep (equally rarely). The Water Orchard is funny like a sitcom because it feels like the jokes come first. Half the script is jokes and most of them are funny. The actors who shine best are those who excel at comedy, the ones who have the best timing and delivery (John Doran, Rachel Gleeson). The only times where the show lags are those where the jokes aren’t funny or where the timing is off. There are certain scenes where the Mother (a pre-recorded audio track) argues with her subconscious (text visualised through a projection on the back wall) which could have been choreographed and timed to perfection, free of human frailty. In reality they didn’t quite link up a cohesive character, and felt sort of like you were reading Tumblr and listening to Sunday Miscellany.
So it’s just a farce? Well, each character is given their own monologue in an effort to bring some depth to each character and their situation. In some instances this gives us much needed exposition (e.g. John Doran’s detective’s background is v funny, v well delivered) but other times they bring in themes that then just sit there at the audience's feet. One such theme is that of ableism. Peter Corboy plays a disabled man who has lost his right hand through a finger painting incident. Throughout the play we see that every character is disgusted and repulsed by his missing hand and prosthetic hook. He is ostracised and isolated by his disability and in his monologue we get a glimpse of his self-loathing, which also emerges in bouts throughout the play. To put on my millennial hat for a moment, his monologue shows us how ableism affects the disabled. But this insight doesn’t change anything, we’re still expected to laugh at the characters’ revulsion to his hook, at his self-loathing and poor social skills. While characters like Buster Bluth in Arrested Development play a similar joke about hook handed man children, they purposefully avoid the human cost of such humour, as they do with all humour throughout the show. The Water Orchard often highlights the human cost of the joke only to keep laughing.
The play comments on social and political issues in a similar manner. Characters frequently comment on problems with the healthcare system, with the increasing wealth gap and selfishness of the wealthy in the country. These issues don’t seem to impact on the characters' motivations to any great degree, the characters don’t serve any illustrative purpose here, it sort of feels like a theatricalised version of Phoenix magazine.
This is all to say that the comedy is tight and well written, it’s the points where play diverges from the sitcom that it flounders a bit. What sort of drama is an unfunny sitcom? It’s not a political one, anyway.
Oh right, anything else? Everything else was very nice, but not everything was given room to breathe. Going in I expected music to play a bigger part, being designed by Cameron McCauley and Kevin Gleeson and performed by Tonnta Music, really only coming into prominence at the end, creating a very atmospheric final scene. The set design was very fresh and an interested take on 1970/80s fashion and style, you were always looking at something beautiful and interesting during the whole run of the show.
All in all, The Water Orchard felt like watching a good tv show. We’re in the golden age of television so it seems right and fair that we watch good tv in the theatre.
James for DRAFF