“One girl, against the happiness of the whole village. Can you not see it has to be done?”
The Papatango prize has unearthed some fascinating new writing over the last few years, Luke Owen’s Unscorched, Louise Monaghan’s Pack and Dawn King’s Foxfinder to name just a few, and it is to the last play there that this year’s winner bears some thematic similarity. Mining a vein of dystopian folklore clearly gets you far in this competition and Matt Grinter’s Orca proves itself an interesting winner.
Directed by Alice Hamilton at the Southwark Playhouse, Orca works best as a skin-crawling pseudo-thriller, the ominous weight of something terribly wrong weighing down this community. On a remote island, an isolated village goes through the same ritual they’ve carried out for years – selecting a young girl to enact a mock sacrifice to disperse the orca pods who decimate the fishing stocks on which the community relies so heavily.
But the ceremony hides a deeper, darker truth, and as the idealistic young Fan hopes and dreams it will be her who is chosen, her elder sister Maggie is determined not to let that fate befall her. For she was the chosen one a couple of years ago and the repercussions are still affecting her now. But her father won’t listen, too concerned with restoring the family’s societal status and the village elder won’t brook any breaking away from tradition.
One might long for a little more from the narrative twist, either in a less obvious direction or more time to unpack it once it hits late on, but Hamilton’s production captures much of the eeriness of the piece, aided by a stunning design from Frankie Bradshaw. And the acting is superlative, especially from Carla Langley and Rona Morison as the sisters, and Simon Gregor and Aden Gillett as the patriarchal figures who’ve abdicated their decency.