On April 17th, 1936, a teacher led 27 schoolboys into Germany’s Black Forest for what should have been a ten-day expedition. By 8 pm that evening, nearby villagers began a search and rescue party which would find four of those young men deceased. A day later, one of the rescued boys died in hospital. The Misfortune of the English, a new play by Pamela Carter, unearths and dramatically reimagines the day leading up to this catastrophe, through the lens of three boys.
The structure of this world-premiere play is bound up in hypotheticals and contemplation. Unconventional from its onset, we know immediately that this is not a period piece. In it, anachronisms abound music, language, performance styles and so forth. While this allows the characters to move in and out of the past, present, and future, it does mean that they never sit in one for any length of time.
Director Oscar Toeman cleverly stages interludes throughout to relieve the audience and the actors from the play’s intensity and incessant world-building. Toeman’s production is well-paced and showcases fine talents who perform the work, with agility, in the round. In particular, Matthew Tennyson as Lyons is understated, translucent, spontaneous, and in command of great comedic delivery. Hubert Burton as Harrison has a strong presence and a resonant voice made for the stage.
Daniel Balfour’s sound design stood out positively in my mind as the fifth character in this production. Guiding, resetting, and orienting us to new places and points in time, this element prevails over the piece’s lackluster form.
Based on a harrowing true story and thanks to profound research by Bernd Hainmüller, the Orange Tree Theatre has produced a compelling examination of group-think and machismo that honors the dead by interrogating history and justice.
The Misfortune of the English is 1 hour 35 minutes and runs through 28 May 2022 at Orange Tree Theatre (Richmond).
Review Matthew Pierce Photo Ellie Kurttz