One goes into Snow Orchid aware that it will centre on family relationships riddled with tension, – what else would you expect from a play about Catholic immigrants with complex pathologies and a gay son? – which is possibly one of the most difficult dynamics to convey consistently. But you should put aside any doubts about the cast and crew’s ability to convey the trauma of forced migration, the emotional politics of domestic abuse, and the toxic trappings of co-dependency. This production perfectly encapsulates the impossibilities of personal growth (hence ‘Snow Orchid’) in a situation where the past weighs so heavily.
The only (extremely minor) shortcoming was some of the cast’s delivery. Meanwhile the staging, lighting, and script come together in a way that can only happen with the sincere commitment of everyone involved in the production. It is difficult to pick one standout feature of such a wonderful show without feeling as if I’m underselling the others. But if I had to choose, it would have to be Joseph Pintauro’s script, which is so wonderfully written it is difficult to do it justice (especially considering the Cambridge University Queer Players were established as recently as June 2017). The dialogue mostly shifted between devastating and hilarious so organically that one might not even notice the sometimes-unconvincing accents adopted by a number of the cast. Other than the accents, however, each actor involved is obviously talented, and every member of the cast is owed acclaim for their part in keeping the audience fully engaged throughout the show.
Bilal Hasna (playing Rocco Lazarra) gave us the night’s standout performance. As soon as he walked into the kitchen and gazed in wonder at the home he had not stepped foot in for two years, I believed he was an older Italian immigrant desperate for salvation. And he kept us believing to the extent that he seemed to have a halo effect, raising the standard of acting from good enough to great every time he appeared on stage. Every tremble of Hasna’s lips, every gesture, every perfectly delivered line left you sympathising more and more with his character, while the domestic abuse backstory raised pertinent questions about the gendered experience of class-related traumas.
Staging consisted of a couple of beds, dining and kitchen areas, and a doorframe. Every prop and every inch of the stage was put to use expertly. When Rocco walks into the kitchen and looks around as Filumela (Clemi Collet) laughs in the bedroom with her sons, you find yourself wanting to warn her of how close Rocco is to hearing her mocking tone – their flat is tiny. Later on, the anguish of separation is transformed into catharsis as Filumela walks upstage, away from the audience, in her first venture out of the house in two decades. She then walks stage left and downstage, now very close to the audience, in order to bask in the light (literally) of her new-found independence. The lighting was here, and throughout the rest of the show, ideal.
This production is political art at its best. It is one that deftly handles themes of gender, class, sexuality, love, and more because it understands how wider issues permeate the everyday and does not tokenise or overblow any one experience.
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