Oranges on the Brain is an earnest story about a couple grappling with the trauma of illness while on a madcap hunt for the perfect smoothie. Despite some lapses into melodrama and occasionally flat humour the play is a tender piece from company-to-watch Delirium about love and acceptance blended with some fairly fruity humour.
The action starts with Thea (Sarah Maguire) and Duncan (James Groom) frantically moving fruit around the stage in an argument about the creation of the greatest smoothie: the ‘Elixir of Life’. Duncan, an erratic illustrator with mischievous charm, plays at being a fruit alchemist while Thea is his tempered counterpart concerned both for Duncan’s health and the kiwi mix congealing on the kitchen walls.
Their initial interactions are somewhat laborious and it takes time for the pair to build up to a notably physical performance. The two dance scenes however are more in keeping with Delirium’s reputation for sharp physical theatre. They are excellently choreographed by Karl Sullivan and it's difficult not to take pleasure in the duo’s crisp mastery of the stage.
Director Oliver Kaderbhai and writer Joe Graham inject further originality into the concept with stark tone changes representing the sudden and harrowing nature of Duncan’s illness. David M Saunders’ original score manages these tone changes well: Duncan’s attacks are signalled by a cacophony of thunder and an intense concerto. This keeps us on edge as we attempt to enjoy Duncan and Thea’s all-too-brief peace. The clever lighting effects are nicely handled and while the use of projected video screens in the background is not a particularly inspiring addition their delicate application is well-weighted.
While the chemistry between the two players cannot be denied their partnership is a slightly imbalanced one. Groom, as the suffering and brilliant Duncan, is sterling in his commitment to a role requiring such abrupt shifts, yet with these contrasts comes the danger of over-playing. Groom often captures a real sense of malevolence but this can sometimes err towards comic villainy. Maguire’s Thea on the other hand is more understated and subtle in her approach. She plays her role with notable expression but frequently fades too much behind Groom’s exuberance. In a final moment of confrontation we yearn for a stronger Thea to really punctuate the play and unfortunately this never fully develops.
These issues do not entirely overpower Graham’s intriguing script and the play should improve in the next few showings as the cast tightens up. As it is, Oranges on the Brain is an appealing blend of sadness and humour and while the heavier sections could be pithier there is plenty of zest in Delirium’s latest production.