With only eighteen seats arranged in Sale Waterside Arts’ studio theatre space, Karl Falconer’s The Orange Peel is an intimate affair. Portraying a disastrous family meal between two siblings and their partners, this is a relatable subject matter with which most people can identify. The studio’s intimacy places the play’s audience as eavesdropping spectators to the evening’s events, a position that becomes increasingly uncomfortable as tensions between the four characters begin to rise.
At the heart of Falconer’s play are fascinating characters whose ambiguity leaves them shrouded in mystery. None of the characters are particularly likeable and they have few redeeming qualities, yet there is something strangely alluring about Falconer’s perplexing characters. Being forced to decipher their true identities, but having crucial information withheld, is tantalising, yet equally frustrating. There is nothing I love more in the theatre than ambiguous characters who leave me questioning their motives.
There is a tender, compassionate relationship between Michael (played by writer, Karl Falconer) and his younger sister, Dani (Rhea Little), yet there is an abnormal ferocity to Michael’s feelings for his sister. After losing his mother, Michael becomes unhealthily obsessed with her memory and craves motherly affection from Dani.
A constantly agitated character, Falconer’s mannerisms indicate that Michael is repressing anger. He restlessly shifts around, his leg shaking or hands clenching, and repeatedly presses his hand to his forehead, denoting a character in mental turmoil. The reason behind his irrational behaviour is never fully revealed but it is implied that its root cause lies in his relationship with his mother. Whether he experienced trauma when he was younger, or simply struggles with the loss of a parent, Michael is an enigma, and remains the play’s most fascinating character.
Rhea Little’s Dani is slightly more normal than her brother, but is also ambiguous, as she tries to escape her working-class roots, moving from the family home to a “completely sterile” middle-class apartment. Her brother struggles to accept Dani’s decision, questioning whether buying wine from Waitrose makes you middle-class. “It still tastes like shit” he says, bitterly.
Dani’s boyfriend, Harry (Jack Spencer) is a cocksure, deplorable character who never lets anyone get a word in edgewise. Confidently played by Spencer, Harry inappropriately flirts with Michael’s partner, as well as Dani’s mother in a flashback. Instigating inappropriate sexual conversations, Harry is a “jack-the-lad”, who always wears a façade. His true personality is only hinted at in a poignant flashback with his parents, that reveals his vulnerability. It is suggested that he spent time in prison for inappropriate conduct as a teacher, but his true background is an intriguing mystery.
It is a shame that Pheobe Jakober’s Rebecca feels less developed than the other characters. She is another despicable person, with no redeeming qualities, and plenty of secrets, but I simply didn’t care enough about her character to try to decipher them. Whereas the other characters had a suggested, shrouded backstory, Rebecca did not. Taking nothing away from Jakober’s performance, Rebecca’s character just isn’t intriguing enough to keep me captivated, unlike the others.
Choosing a bare stage with only a couple of chairs brilliantly amplifies the intimacy and tension of the play, as it focuses the audience’s attention on Falconer’s mysterious characters. However, spectral images of moving figures, projected onto the back wall, provide an unnecessary distraction. Drawing the audience’s gaze to the back wall, they threaten to extinguish the intimacy and tension of the play.
There are moments where the narrative becomes confusing. As flashbacks interrupt the evening’s proceedings, it is sometimes unclear what period in time certain events occur. I believe that a subtle lighting change would help signify what is past and what is present, although of course, the confusion caused may be intentional.
Despite this, The Orange Peel is an accomplished play that proves that actor/playwright Karl Falconer has admirable talent. With fascinating, thought-provoking, ambiguous characters, the tension increases as the play progresses, and the vegetables are overcooked.