Water tends not to be a favoured artistic icon, yet it is a central topic for Collapsing Horse’s new comedy The Water Orchard, a quirky and genuinely funny play produced in conjunction with Project Arts Centre. While each character is as unreliable a protagonist as the next, the plot remains easy to follow and pleasurably strange. The premise is something of a low-budget Wes Anderson meets Tim Burton; of a misfit family isolated in a dilapidated estate, who survive on tinned tuna purchased from the dwindled profit from the family’s once thriving water orchard, and the two con artists who join them. The disappearance of their mother forces the characters to confront their mummy issues, and unleashes a script rife with droll potential.
Although the cast was contained to four names popular in the Dublin scene, the characters were colourful and memorable, each with their own telling quirks. Peter Corboy was competent in the role of hook-handed Addison, grabbing the audience’s heart with his balance of mirth and vulnerability. The two con artists, Detective Grief (John Doran) and carer Bee (Breffni Holohan), provided the majority of comedy gold. The company made clever use of multiple more characters via voice overs, projected text on stage and a remarkable ghost-consciousness of the missing mother via a sheet and hat. Rachel Gleeson’s Noelle was perhaps the least striking comedian, if only because the “shrieking female nag” trope ceased being funny a long time ago.
The play succeeded in its genre; constantly drawing chuckles from the audience with sundry belly-hurting, knee-smacking moments. They managed to poise on comedy-by-numbers without turning to slapstick; of particular note is an elegant comic fight in the fifth scene, ending in hilarity with Bee shouting “Ow my tit!”. Despite the isolated, almost dystopian setting, the play wittily references pop culture from Lear to angry reacts, even wittily adding a recurring refrain of that millennial buzzword: brunch.
The music and sound design of Kevin Gleeson and Evie McGuinness must be applauded, providing a sweeping cinematic soundtrack to the kooky story, adding drama and suspense to bulk out the plot. The play utilised the wonderful space provided by Project to its utmost advantages, with the backdrop shifting into a green screen between scenes contrasting to the rusty and dusty stage props.
The real joy of The Water Orchard is how the loopy characters permit the actors to make fun of themselves; to remind the audience of the absurdity of the creative turn their careers have had; of the methodologies relayed by actors; of the power of a loud voice. It seemed to be Collapsing Horse’s own exploration as to why they do what they do, and why they strive for the greatness they are achieving. There is, as Addison tells the audience, “something very real about it amongst all this unrealness”.