Sally Woodcock’s debut piece is a striking piece about the state of modern Africa, told through a crisp, witty love triangle. Crossing racial and ethical boundaries, it flirts with political incorrectness while indulging all manner of casual assumptions about what it means to be African and live in Africa. The script zings beautifully, the story is complex and interesting, and this inaugural production is exceptionally well realised. Unfortunately, a weak and clichéd ending does end the evening on a sour note, but this is still a powerful and striking production – a huge success for the Finborough and their continued commitment to new writing of the highest quality.
Fanta Orange describes a love triangle between Roger, Regina and Ronnie – he a white African farmer, she his black house-girl and the latter a British Trustafarian working towards her PhD. Both women are pregnant – but the questions of rape and HIV both rear their ugly heads before too long. What could easily slip into cliché is held back by a lovely character and thematic interplay until the end, at which point the themes collide in an oddly placed surreal moment which crudely and implicitly states what was subtly alluded to before.
Sadly, this is the only real criticism that can be levelled at the piece – what started as a reflective slice-of-life ends up descending into a trite and simplistic overstatement of the play’s themes. The writing also slips uncomfortably into this oversimplified mode, with unconvincing lines and a bizarrely unreal scenario – a real shame considering the exceptional quality of the script beforehand and the production, which is a tour-de-force for all involved. Alex Marker’s design is incredible, seemingly expanding the intimate Finborough into a Nigerian plain with beautiful salt-texture watercolour backdrops, evocatively lit by Neill Brinkworth’s strongly naturalistic lighting design. Gareth Machin uses Tom Gibbons’ lovely African-drum inspired sound design to transition quickly between scenes, which are succintly and snappily directed. All three performers excel in their roles (particularly in their accent work), although special mention must be given to Kehinde Fadipe for her powerful and truthful portrayal of Regina.
In short, this is a remarkably strong production, with nigh-on all aspects deserving the highest of accolades. Cruel as it is to say, it misses the 5 star mark simply for its unfortunate ending, which feels like a vague attempt to make the piece more consciously “relevant” – a sad misstep in a piece that impresses throughout for its tact and subtlety. Nonetheless, this is an excellent beginning to the Finborough’s New Writing Season – one can only hope the following pieces are of a similar quality.