Antonym Theatre were one of my favourite companies the first year I came to Fringe, and I remain forever gutted that I had to miss them last year because of scheduling conflicts. This year, however, fortune once again smiled on me, and allowed me to see another show by this creative and talented company.
This year, we have Side Orders, a new play written by (award-winning poet) Laurie Ogden, which seeks to highlight the serious, relevant subjects of isolation, Homophobia, and Islamophobia, and present them in an accessible, theatrically interesting manner. In this, I believe it succeeds, as far as my fairly limited experience of the latter two subjects can tell me.
The play is simple but powerful in an understated kind of way, and the set (designed by Linda Azma) is limited yet eye-catching. They play does not attempt to go too big in its presentation, it allows for the dialogue and the action to make a big impact on their own, with occasional intriguing little sequences that deviate away from the largely naturalistic nature of the performance. The dance routine to Stromae’s ‘Tous les mêmes’ was a particularly well-polished and ever-so-slightly surreal element of the piece, that nevertheless maintains the strong links to reality and the everyday which characterise what I’ve seen of Antonym’s work and Laurie Odgen’s writing.
Odgen is a talented writer, probably one of most talented writers I’ve met at the Fringe, and this script has intelligence, depth, and wit, with just the right balance between humour and drama. The way in which the characters are written makes them feel like real, identifiable people, people we all know or have known in life. In this manner, the world Odgen creates for the stage is our own world, that she forces us to confront in close quarters as though looking through just a thin layer of glass. And the thing is, we don’t really mind having to confront it.
The cast is strong, with a wonderful chemistry between the three actors. The contrasting personalities of Lily (Chloe Rolfe) and Amina (Malak Tammy Obaidi) create a delightful dynamic that is only heightened when Bobbi (Harry Rigby) is thrown into the mix. Rigby in particular gives a subtly emotional performance which makes a strong foundation and frame for the piece as a whole. The back and forth between the three characters keeps the play energised and the actors deliver Ogden’s insightful and original dialogue with conviction and sincerity. Meticulous direction on the part of Grace Hudson has clearly done much to marry these elements of script and cast together so well.
As good as all of this is, at times I’ll admit there is a slight incomplete feel to this piece that may come from its 1hr time constraint. These characters, and their relationships with each other, are interesting and engaging, and I find myself wanting see and know more about them and where they might go. I feel like maybe we see only half of what these characters are capable of, and, with a longer runtime, this play might be able to access so much more of that potential. As it is, the play in its current form is still able to utilise the time it has to tell a touching, intriguing story with decent justice being done to the characters and their respective narratives.
As original plays go, this a very good play. The ending left me slightly choked up and there is a palpable emotion in the writing and performance that makes it a play well-worth seeing. It does much to demonstrate the ability of the cast as actors, Odgen as a writer, and Antonym Theatre as an innovative and creative young company with a lot more to show the theatrical world.