Omnibus Theatre catches up with multi award-winning director Kristine Landon-Smith. She talks about revivals and why she’s breathing new life into French dramatist Jean Anouilh’s little-known play, The Orchestra.
Set in post war France, a third-rate orchestra plays time worn musical arrangements to an indifferent audience. Between the musical interludes comedy and catastrophe collide.
OMNIBUS THEATRE: Why The Orchestra?
KRISTINE LANDON-SMITH: Many, many years ago I saw a production of The Orchestra at the King’s Head in London. I found the play about a group of musicians so bewitching. There were the subtle moments and then heightened moments of comedy, where the actors were miming playing musical instruments. The more technically precise they were with their miming, the funnier it was to watch. It was wonderful, and I admired how skilled the actors were at getting it so right. I thought it was a real gem of a piece, and I wanted to direct it.
The opportunity arose ten years ago when Mehmet Ergen was the artistic director at Southwark Playhouse, it was such a great experience. Fast forward over 20 years later and my path crossed with Stefania Licari one of the actors I’d tutored at the East 15 Acting School, she was keen on us working together. This forgotten gem of a play seemed such a great project for her to sink her producing and acting teeth into and great timing for a London revival.
OT: Do the actors play musical instruments?
KLS: No, they’re miming but they need to be utterly convincing. I’ve brought in Allyson Devenish, a much-respected musician, recitalist and musical director (NITRO) to teach the actors how to hold their particular instruments and mime playing the score that has been especially composed by Felix Cross, who has been involved in over 100 productions from musicals to Bollywood, to Hip hop theatre and opera. Allyson will be working with each of the cast to show them the moves for every musical note. It will take hours of arduous practice. Ultimately, they will have to know exactly how to play their instrument and where their part comes in. I don’t think any of the cast, prior to working on this, have the musical ability in the instrument they happen to be miming. It’s all completely new to them.
OT: Why Jean Anouilh?
KLS: He wrote such wonderful witty comedies. I’ve noticed there are plays in my repertoire that I often get drawn back to and direct them more than once to see what else they bring. Revivals are always fresh because of the different people you bring each time and their own responses to the work are so different each time. I’ve just been doing the The Serpent’s Teeth, about war and conflict, and I have directed that one before. It’s funny how you return to plays that you love. I often return to Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca too.
OT: What do you hope audiences will take away from this?
KLS: Jean Anouilh said that the one thing that the French can bring to the theatrical scene is comedy: we can always make people laugh. To make people laugh is a subtle and complex business – this play gives us the opportunity to prompt a very particular joyful response from an audience.
THE ORCHESTRA is at Omnibus Theatre from 29 Jan – 17 Feb, get your tickets here→