Next Time I’ll Sing To You
Genre: Comedy Drama
Venue: Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 2SA
The Orange Tree staged many of James Saunders’s plays from 1973 onwards, including a production of Next Time I’ll Sing To You in 1974, a play in which he looked at the maddening challenge a playwright faces when drawing up characters either from ‘real life’ or from the imagination. It’s ‘them vs us’ as he or she wrestle with their own creations who somehow take on a (chaotic) life of their own. Authorship and authority are prised apart as characters are realised within the performance space.
For a great deal of his working life as a playwright, James Saunders was a close friend and supporter of the Orange Tree Theatre which, he believed, was the kind of fringe theatre that “attempts an escape from the institutionalisation and ritualisation”. According to Saunders, the Orange Tree stood out midst a style and convention of British theatre that moved “more and more away fromreality”: rather than allowing theatregoers to relate the theatre to the outside world, it portrayed a “grotesque travesty of life”. How ironic, then, that he chose so often to break away from naturalistic dramatic styles.
Martin Esslin named Saunders and the play Next Time I’ll Sing To You in his introduction of The Theatre Of The Absurd (1965) along with N. F. Simpson, David Campton, and Harold Pinter. The play had its premiere production at the Questor’s Theatre Ealing in 1962. Viewing the production in 2011, I must admit I felt I was experiencing the performance from inside an echo-chamber with phrases and ideas from Beckett’s Waiting For Godot and Pirandello’s Six Characters In Search Of An Author bouncing off the dialogue.
So what still gets the audience laughing in 2011?
I believe it’s the strength of Saunders’s hypothesis that working in the theatre best mirrors the way humans are stuck with trying to create something in collaboration with others. Ironically, the theatre becomes the perfect place for showing the inescapable way that all attempts in ‘the search for meaning’ is riddled with diverse viewpoints, prejudices, visionary insights and the limitations of our own personal experiences and knowledge. Hence, the playwright/director as auteur would have much an easier life if it wasn’t for those pesty characters who strive to be portrayed according to the truth of their own perceptions.
The wonder of Next Time I’ll Sing To You is that it shows that the dilemma comes alive from the moment that an idea comes into being: I think therefore I am. It is already in existence within the playwright: hardwired (to use a contemporary metaphor to describe an essential self) in his/her psyche as s/he realises their ideas in a dramatic form.
What is more, as various performance theories have shown since Esslin and Saunders partook in their experiments on ‘the theatre of the absurd’, the acting style for such works requires a consciousness from the performer of thedifference between ‘acting’ and ‘just being’. The acting ensemble of Roger Parkins/ Meff, Brendan Paricks/ Dust, Holly Elmes/ Lizzie, Aden Gillet/ Rudge and Jamie Newall/ Hermit understand this with some gusto, though they seem somewhat limited by the direction that tries to ‘motivate’ every line naturalistically. Nonetheless, the performances are athletic and strong with some moments excelling more than others: particularly memorable for me was the way that Jamie Newell steadily ‘becomes’ his hermit character and how Holly Elmes shapes her character as ‘not Lizzie’ but Lizzie’s sister, similarly named Lizzie!!
All in all, it is worth viewing this English ‘classic’ of Absurdist theatre. And It is worth experiencing the work of a fine British playwright, James Saunders, and his sense of play and inventiveness at the Orange Tree.
Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Friday 11th November
James Saunders (1974) “The Casuality of Ritual” in theatre programme for Next Time I’ll Sing To You, 9 November – 10 December 2011
Martin Esslin, Introduction to “Penguin Plays – Absurd Drama” (Penguin, 1965)