Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Distance, Orange Tree Theatre

Review: The Distance, Orange Tree Theatre

Published in Time Out, 13.10.2014

Bea’s left her family. For good. In Melbourne. She didn’t fit in Down Under, she didn’t fully click with her husband and she wasn’t cut out for motherhood. So, what now?

Back in Blighty, her two oldest friends have rallied. Bossy-boots Kate has booked Bea a plane ticket home. Alex is pissed and distracted: her teenage son’s home alone and the riots are just kicking off in Tottenham. Nonetheless Bea’s adamant that she’s staying put. She wants space. She wants herself to herself again.

Director-turned-playwright Deborah Bruce’s second play turns out to be the real deal. A breezy middle-class comedy – with proper jokes and everything – The Distance is also shot through with big emotions, moral dilemmas and, best of all, quiet truths.

The Distance is full of distances. Families are stretched across the world: estranged children in Wales, ex-husbands in Rio. You see the gaps between people, as each projects their own outlook onto others’ predicaments, and the gaps between selves.

Life takes its toll, and Bruce lets you see how damage accumulates and personalities undergo longshore drift: Kate has clearly hardened, her former rockstar husband has shrunk into meekness and Alex has picked up a drinking habit. As for Bea, she’s become a stranger to herself; no longer the young woman swept off her feet by a handsome stranger in an airport lounge.

A great cast helps and Charlotte Gwinner’s nimble production benefits no end. Helen ‘Take thee Rachel’ Baxendale surfs between certainty and catatonia, always keeping Bea just this side of infuriating. It takes real skill to walk that line. Clare Lawrence Moody makes Kate a proper nails-on-blackboard horror, and Emma Beattie is very droll as Alex, doing all she can to avoid seeming stoned.

Photograph: Helen Warner

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