Set in the aftermath of the Second World War, as a new normality grew awkwardly from Europe’s ashes, The Orchestra is an often-overlooked black comedy from prolific French author Jean Anouilh.
A frothy farce with an appealing undercurrent of disillusionment, it sketches out the various rivalries and worries of a small-time big band reduced to playing the cafe circuit. Tightly written snatches of dialogue gradually flesh out stories of affairs, domestic drudgery, and wartime desperation, broken up by pleasant musical passages.
These would have been more effective if even some of the music was played live, but despite committed miming and a perfectly serviceable score from Felix Cross, the interludes feel flat and artificial.
Director Kristine Landon-Smith puts some movement into the necessarily static staging, with subtle spotlighting shifting our attention from conversation to conversation, while Toph Enany’s cantankerous manager Lebonze prowls the auditorium, glaring at the players as they scheme and slack off.
Among the ensemble, Pedro Casarin ties himself in convincing knots as deeply repressed pianist Leon, wincing when he’s spoken to and fondling the violas when no one’s looking. Luna Dai and Sarah Waddell bicker believably as competing violinists with much in common beneath the surface, while Amanda Osborne’s band leader Mme. Hortense covers up her seething sexual frustrations with a show of patrician refinement.
At times, the play’s laconic humour gets lost in the production’s continually shifting tone, but Anouilh’s vividly-drawn caricatures remain recognisable and relatable in all their pettiness and promiscuity.