REVIEW: Tree - Old Vic Theatre

Tree (Old Vic Theatre)
I deliberately didn't read anything about 'Tree' before I went to see it: advertised as a 'relatively' new show, I wanted to be surprised and watch with an open mind.

The programme is vague, folding out into a poster for the production and simply re-iterating the information on the Old Vic's website; that it is a play for two people, written  by the comic Daniel Kitson, and is set next to a tree in early autumn.

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Set in the round, the stage is dominated by the titular prop; a stunning tree that stretches into the lighting rigs of the theatre. The plot concerns two un-named men, played by Tim Key, and Kitson himself. Key has arrived at the foot of the tree for a meeting with a woman he hasn't seen for ten years; he is flustered and excited, full of apprehension at the meeting that he believes he is running late for. It turns out the clocks have changed and he is, in fact, very early. 

His quiet wait is interrupted by the presence of a man who has lived in the branches of the tree, so he says, for nine years (pooping in plastic bags, reading books sent up by his neighbours and watching subtitled movies through an old lady's window.) What follows is an exchange of life stories, mundane and unbelievable; a series of questions that are asked explicitly or simply implied, and tales that branch out (pardon the pun) into others.

The script is lightning fast, full of witty exchanges and touching insights. My only quibble would be that it may be almost *too* quick with some of the jokes lost in laughter and the pace having to slow to allow it. The actors were not wearing microphones, which added to both the intimacy and the situation (shouting up to or down from a tree) but it did mean that some of the lines after a wave of laughter went unheard, and there was a lot of laughter from the sold-out audience.

Kitson is remarkably comfortable on stage, despite spending the entire 90 minutes tied to a tree, jumping about on the branches and peering through the foliage, in contrast with Key, whose character never seems to be quite comfortable on the ground, struggling with whether to stand or sit, or how to lay out the picnic. As their relative stories unfurl, I was unsure as to what was true and what was fantasy; a seemingly normal situation is not what it appears to be, and something absurd has logical reasoning.

There was a dip in energy towards the end but the final triple-whammy of revelations, comic and tragic, brought it back up and I was left questioning which stories I believed, what I wanted to believe, and the true nature of the characters lives and intentions. 

It was a beautifully written, poignant and funny play, dealing with questions of commitment (committing to a cause, a person, a date...) and the stories we choose to tell to the world or keep to ourselves.

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