By Carmel Shortall
Orchid and a ragtag bunch of loose ‘family’ members live underground in a post-apocalyptic world after “the fall”. They trade their only commodity – water – with other larger, fiercer, groups such as the one at Kings Cross. They set traps for food in the tube tunnels where they live and eat rats – or cat when they can get it.
Some, like leader Thomas, remember life on the surface; others like Grace only know, or care, about life underground; but none understand Orchid’s yearning for the surface … for light “I want to know light … I want to feel the sunshine.” Thomas has encouraged Orchid, giving her books when he finds them, and telling her things about the surface – like the Pacific Ocean – but not about the fall. Even Jack and Grace’s parents don’t speak of it. The exact nature of the Fall is never spelled out but, “everything changed. God turned out the lights. Nature banished us.”
Life is fractious underground – tempers flare over trivial things. Jack and Grace squabble over a missing torch; Kane constantly winds Orchid up. Thomas wants to play safe, protecting the group when necessary and Kane wants to take the fight to other groups at Holborn or Westminster. But when the ‘others’ launch a fatal attack and their small band is breaking up, Orchid takes her chance to make it to the surface…
The play is about longing for something finer and the constant need to strive towards happiness. With clear references to the environmental, climate change, even inequality and isolation, Orchid invites us all “to ascend, see the light, change the world.”
The set design is a marvel: smoky, dark, claustrophobic, the world of the tunnels is perfectly evoked onstage. The actors have goggle-like lights fixed on their heads giving the production a steampunk-y vibe. Torches constantly sweep the audience as Tom Baynton’s mournful music adds to the atmosphere.
As well as playing Orchid, Michelle Payne produced; co-wrote the play with Daniel Len; co-designed the set with Director James Milton, and the costumes with Jimmy Ellisdon. Emma Pritchard as both Assistant Producer and Grace, Charlotte Payne as Stage Manager, as well Dan T Jameson as Kane, Will Richards as Jack, Jimmy Jameson as Thomas make up the rest of Team Orchid.
The play was sold out on its second night and Moors Theatre bar was packed.