REVIEW: Snow Orchid

A moving depiction of a highly dysfunctional family

Joe Pintauro’s Snow Orchid offers a naturalistic exploration of family, homosexuality, and domestic violence, taking the audience on a moving journey into the Lazzarra household as the characters confront troubling ghosts triggered by Rocco’s (Bilal Hasna) return from a psychiatric hospital. This poignant play has been adapted as the ADC Mainshow by the Cambridge University Queer Players, who are to be highly commended for their brilliant performance which was at once thoughtful and compelling, tentative and confident.

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Photo credit: Evelina Gumileva

An array of highly complex relationships is portrayed within the context of a more hopeful future, which was represented by the dynamic energy of the two boys, Blaise (Gabriel Wheble) and Sebbie (Toby Waterworth), who dream of an escape from their repressive patriarchal family environment. It is clear that much time and attention has been devoted to understanding and unravelling the nuanced characters in this play. Hasna’s portrayal of Rocco is the most striking performance and displays an incredible versatility; Rocco’s most vulnerable and emotional moments are sharply contrasted with moments of explosive violence, revealing an totally different side to his persona. Hasna crafts his character exquisitely, evoking sympathy in his desperate plea for his wife to kiss him, yet constantly reminding us of his abusive past through his volcanic eruptions of anger.

Clemi Collett is also excellent as Filumena, the repressed, agoraphobic Italian mother who clings on to her religion and her love for her eldest son, Sebbie, as a means of survival. Collett is spellbinding: light-hearted humour is intertwined with darker, passionate outbursts, verging on the neurotic. Waterworth wonderfully tackles the character of Sebbie, the closeted son whose difficult relationship with his father brings up raw wounds from the past which are confronted in a heart-rending scene in which Rocco offers to give his son money in an attempt to make up for his wrongdoings. Waterworth’s acting was extremely convincing, and he was aware enough to include a comedic touch of improvisation during a slight mishap in which he failed to light a match. The younger son, Blaise, who seeks his family’s acceptance, was also well played by Wheble, but his more emotional moments lacked the same conviction as the rest of the cast.

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Photo credit: Evelina Gumileva

It is worth noting that the naturalistic stage design was exceptional. Set designers Arielle Domb and Esther Sorooshian did an incredible job in creating a realistic house setting, which perfectly supported the family dynamic, allowing the characters to move seamlessly between rooms as they navigated their relationships. Rocco’s hesitant entry into the master bedroom made for a visual reminder of his emotional vulnerability, yet the higher level of the dining room, where he mostly resides, marks his power in the family hierarchy. Being able to see all of the rooms on stage at once invited the audience into the family’s life in an intimate way, and the doorway to the outside world reminded us not only of the repressive nature of the environment, but also provided an opportunity for Sebbie to find some sort of freedom and a safe space to pursue his relationship with Doogan (James Coe). When Doogan intrudes into the family’s sphere by stepping through the door, one notes an important step in the family’s acceptance of Sebbie’s homosexuality; this was an extremely touching moment.

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Photo credit: Evelina Gumileva

Unfortunately, although it is the only major criticism, the timing of the music was often unsatisfying, and sometimes detracted from several moving moments. Most notably, the snow and the music at the end came so unexpectedly that it was almost comic, which was disappointing in one of the most powerful scenes in the play, where Filumena finally steps out of her front door. Nevertheless, this moment was still utterly heart-rending, with several audience members leaving in tears. As the play came to a close, the spotlight and the falling snow will have left a beautiful and memorable image in the audience’s mind.

In sum, this play is a must-see. It perfectly captures Pintauro’s well-written narrative and translates it to the Cambridge stage, making for a moving depiction of a highly dysfunctional family.

4.5/5 stars

(Snow Orchid is on at the ADC Theatre at 7.45pm until Saturday 10th March)

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