Yours for the Asking
Orange Tree, Richmond London
5 Sept-6 Oct 2012
The Orange Tree has again pulled off a coup with the UK premiere of this play by Argentinean-born Spanish playwright Ana Diosdado, one of Spain’s leading writers. This play was completed in 1973 only two years before the dictator Franco’s death. It dramatises the insidious effect of mass media advertising and news manipulation on the lives of ordinary people. Although these concepts are no longer new, the play has retained its relevance. With the Murdoch hacking scandals, the rebranding of mass-murdering company Union Carbide as Dow Chemicals, sponsor of the Olympics, and the ubiquitous use of sex for advertising, its message is still powerful today.
Juan, a stressed and jaded hack is sent by his celebrity gossip magazine to interview Susi, a young model, who’s been transformed into the image for a new perfume – a ruse by the chemical company to mask its culpability for the deaths of several children, after using one of its a drug products. The ruse is exposed and Susi, an icon of beauty and purity, overnight becomes a vilified outcast. Juan and Susi fall in love, but she is already at the end of her tether and contemplating suicide. But in a clever twist at the end, she fails to go through with it, but he does. I was strongly reminded of the Arthur Miller/Marylyn Monroe relationship. As Juan says: ‘It is the system we live in’ that is to blame for so many messed up lives.
Once again, director Sam Walters presents us with a tightly woven drama, teasing out its deep humanity and dramatic possibilities to the limit, and designer Katy Mills manages, with only a table and a couple of chairs, to transport us into a newsroom, a bedroom, a lift and a living room. A tremendous cast led by Mia Austen as the innocently vulnerable model and Steven Elder as the journalist, are ably supported by Rebecca Pownall as Juan’s wife Celia, David Antrobus and James Joyce.
Perhaps a little too earnest (Dario Fo’s ‘Death of an Anarchist’ with less humour) and at times didactic, but certainly gets under the skin.