REVIEW: Hot Orange (Half Moon Theatre)

After the success of last year’s Offie nominated Daytime Deewane, Half Moon Theatre’s latest offering for teenagers is a coming of age story about growing up queer in religious South London households. Premiering at Half Moon ahead of a national tour, Hot Orange is the inaugural play for young audiences from Amal Khalidi and Tatenda Naomi Matsvai, who were paired up to develop the piece as part of Half Moon’s Narratives of Empathy programme in 2021. Like other recent Half Moon productions for ages 13+ it promises an immersive experience in which the audience become part of the scenery and witness the action unfold first hand.

Hot Orange sees a chance(ish) reunion between childhood best friends Amina (Yasmin Twomey) and Tandeki (Tatenda Naomi Matsvai), almost a decade after they last met. As their eyes meet across the counter of a Peckham bubble tea cafe, their minds flash back to long, hot summer nights together on a local basketball court. But entwined with those joyful memories are painful reminders of the weight of familial expectations, and the searing pain of a sudden separation. With the wounds still raw after all these years, will they manage to pick up where they left off, or will their friendship be forever consigned to the past?

Yasmin Twomey and Tatenda Naomi Matsvai in Hot Orange. Image credit: Stephen Russell

It’s a fantastic piece of debut writing from Matsvai and Khalidi, which creates authentic characters and explores the complexities of finding your voice as a young, queer person. Their stories feel personal and relatable to a wide audience, despite focusing on very specific cultural contexts. The writing itself seamlessly blends prose with spoken word, and is particularly powerful in the monologues that are woven between the character interaction.

Both performers are excellent, effectively conveying the development of their characters from childhood innocence through adolescence to the brink of adulthood. They have fantastic chemistry together but are also individually impressive. Matsvai gives an exceptional performance that showcases both comedy and emotional depth, while Twomey connects beautifully with the audience.

Tatenda Naomi Matsvai in Hot Orange. Image credit: Stephen Russell

The immersive nature of the staging will be familiar to anyone who has seen other recent Half Moon productions, with audience members free to sit or stand anywhere within the performance space. Although it feels slightly less natural in this context, compared to the rave setting of Daytime Deewane or the festival in Crowded, it is still a highly effective way of breaking down the barriers between the audience and the performers. And while this makes for a rather more intense experience than traditional theatre staging, director Chris Elwell uses audience interaction playfully – there is an especially nice moment involving Hula Hoops (of the baked snack variety, rather than the playground toy)!

Once again, Half Moon has produced a vital piece of work for teenage audiences that is engaging and relatable. It’s quite the debut from this exciting new writing partnership, and we look forward to seeing how Hot Orange develops on its own coming of age journey.

Hot Orange plays at Half Moon Theatre from 9 to 14 November 2023 ahead of a national tour, returning to Half Moon on 2 December. We received a complimentary press ticket to the evening performance on 9 November.

Image credit: Stephen Russell.