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Orange Tree Theatre Review

Three fantastic productions have opened at Orange Tree Theatre. Each has its own genre, writing style and themes that are explored, but each is superb. Read on to find out exactly what we thought about How to Be a Kid, Black Mountain and Out of Love.

But first, a note about the actors. Hasan Dixon, Katie Elin-Salt and Sally Messham star in all the productions. What was amazing was that we saw all three plays virtually back-to-back in one day and were amazed at how each actor was able to bring forth the multitude of characters they played. They played funny and serious splendidly. Watch out for these names.

How to be a Kid by Sarah McDonald-Hughes is about Molly, a twelve year old who looks after her six-year-old brother Joe, cooks and completes housework. When their nan dies and their mum experiences depression, Joe goes to his dad’s while Molly goes into a residential home. When they return home, Molly realises she still has to take on these responsibilities.

How to be a Kid won Best Play for Young Audiences at the Writers Guild Awards 2018 and it’s not hard to see why. Short sentences and simple dialogue create an effective narrative that has you chucking as you remember childhood memories. The circle stage enables the actors to speak to the audience, and the audience were included in some of the action, such as when Molly wiped ‘drool’ on an audience member’s arm or Joe asked a kid to hold his jar (imaginary).

The whole theatre became the stage when the actors ran up/down the stairs, and also around so that they could enter/exit different ways. The actors play a number of different roles but their movements, including the use of the theatre, tone of voice and accents, enable the children to understand they are playing other characters at this time. Body movements helped the audience understand the ages of the children, such as when Joe is being a pterodactyl.

Taylor Swift music is used in short bursts throughout the show when Molly is having fun with her friend Taylor. It was great to see the children’s faces light up when the songs came on. The use of lighting was effect, for example a red light in centre of stage for a cake, and flashing lights for when music is played. The sound effects such as unlocking a door, brushing teeth, driving a car and many more were extremely effective in bringing the story to life. All of these techniques help to make the play a great place to start conversations with children about mental health, depression, care system and young carers.

A heart-warming story of family, friends, love and hope this is an utterly fantastic play for the whole family. Although the recommended audience is 7 or older, there were definitely younger children in the audience. At 50 minutes duration the play is able to sustain children’s attention.

Out of Love’ centres around best friends Lorna and Grace. While Lorna is offered a place at university, Grace becomes pregnant and they find themselves facing very different experiences and a widening of the gap between them. Set over 30 years, the play uses a series of mini snippets in time to illustrate the nature of their friendships, their crushes and relationships and their choices in life.

These short snippets enabled us to better understand the characters and at only 70minutes duration with no intermission, the flow is maintained. Lighting was used as a way to depict that the time sequence had changed. The movements and tone of voice of the actors also conveyed the timeline, for example as children they look for nits in hair, as adolescents they lock arms and as adults there is less of the physical contact. The issues of periods and sex were explored in a way that was fun whilst showing the changing attitudes of the times. Though a beautifully written script, at times, it felt like the film Beaches.

Playwright Elinor Cook is the winner of the George Devine Award 2013 for Most Promising Playwright, and her previous work with Paines Plough includes Ten Weeks in 2016 and Later in 2007. Out of Love is a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize 2018.

Black Mountain by Brad Birch is a psychological thriller about betrayal and forgiveness. Couple Rebecca and Dan are running away from memories while trying to salvage their relationship, however as normally is the case in this genre where the characters are in a secluded location, someone has followed them. An unoriginal plot twist has the person being Helen, the woman whom Dan has had an affair with. The pace lacked in the first 30minutes or so until the incident with the bird. The dialogue became a touch boring with the monosyllables and each trying to catch the other out. How the characters described the scenery really enabled us to imagine the mountains and the woodshed

Lighting was used superbly such as red lights or minimal lighting to create an eerie atmosphere. Short spurts of different lighting was used to intensify the ‘thriller’ aspect while functioning as scene/time change. At one point two coloured lights moved about the stage together until a third one joined and separated them. The use of a circle stage and the actors using three entries to the stage through the audience also helped create the sense that they are all connected. Smoke effects also created a dark foreboding atmosphere. At 70 minutes duration there is no intermission which helps sustain the suspense.

Birch has won the Harold Pinter Commission in 2016, and his play This Must be the Place won Pick of the Year at the Vault Festival in 2017. Black Mountain has been nominated for the Best Production in the English Language at the Wales Theatre Award 2018.

How to be a Kid, Black Mountain and Out of Love are part of Roundabout 2017, Paines’s Plough award-winning portable in-the-round theatre experience. Paines Plough was formed in 1974 and commissions and producers playwrights and tours their plays over the country. All three plays are a collaboration between Paines Plough, Orange Tree and Theatr Clwyd Productions. Their time in London follows acclaimed performances in Edinburgh and a nationwide tour in Paines Plough Roundabout 2017. All plays were directed by James Grieve.

Each play runs on selected dates from 25 January to 3 March 2018 at Orange Tree Theatre. There are 2:30, 4:30 and 7:30 times available on selected dates. 1 Tickets can be purchased online or via the box office. Captioned performances and relaxed performances are available for certain performances on selected dates.


Address: Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 2SA.

Contact details: 020 8940 3633 or email

Search hashtags #BlackMountain #OutOfLove #HowToBeAKid

Written by Caitlin Neal


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