This is great theatre. Completely convincing interaction is stretched tautly over perfectly wound springs, the tense plot slowly unfurling in a way that disturbs and satisfies in equal measure. The pace is fast and the handling of complex ideas is deft and impressive.
Set in modern day Kenya, Fanta Orange is based on a real-life Amnesty report. When the privileged Ronnie (Jessica Ellerby) enters the lives of white African farmer Roger (Jay Villiers) and his house-girl Regina (Kehinde Fadipe), intricate power struggles and the truisms that determine western attitudes to Africa are beginning to implode.
Writer Sally Woodcock grew up in Kenya and now divides her time between there and the UK. Her nuanced and layered understanding of racial and sexual tensions is fascinating and her ability to tell a story that powerfully combines the particular with the universally resonant is a rare and exciting thing.
The cast deliver performances of depth and range; the complex characters emerge believable and carry off the subtle and conflicting developments the writing demands. Sharp wit and pithy dialogue soften the brutal insights for the first third, so that by the time the hypocrisies emerge the audience is fully engaged and even implicated.
Milk, in all its forms, becomes a shifting and evocative way to question assumptions of benevolence. In one gloriously disturbing scene, breast-feeding achieves epic significance and in another a new myth is built around Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, their Malawi adoption story handled with expert timing and poignant wit.
Symbol and metaphor are used as they should be - building pulsating layers, delicious in their swoop and curve and creating a deep beat beneath the action. When the major scenes erupt they are so woven with meaning that their punch is almost physical. The only flaw is in the final two minutes, when a supernatural finale feels unnecessarily tacked on, re-iterating things that have already been implied and perhaps not giving the audience or the writing its due credit.
Balancing on everything we think we know about colonialism and charity, strength is drawn from acknowledged and unacknowledged history. As we watch our ethical theories disintegrate under the pressure of practical application, the veneer of our carefully liberal ideas begins to crack. This is rich, enjoyable and powerful writing and the ideas it teases out stay turning in the mind long after it finishes.
- Carmel Doohan