Michael Downey's one-man play is an illuminating study in contrast, in which the prosaic reality of a modern hospital is juxtaposed with the glorious heroism of Saxon warriors defending their homeland against marauding Vikings.
The two worlds are brought together by a middle-aged hospital orderly who lures us into the bizarre sub-culture of medieval battle re-enactments while delivering a droll commentary on the quotidian details of his work-day routines.
The set-up has enormous potential for humour and pathos but the strength of the work comes from Downey's understated approach that avoids any hint of condescension and emphasises the human reality of the orderly's obsession with medieval battles.
The play does not shy away from poking fun at the sheer silliness of weekend warriors dressing up in medieval garb but, as in Don Quixote, the passion for wildly romanticised combat is seen as a way of transcending the banality of contemporary life.
The protagonist is based on a real person the writer encountered while working as an orderly at North Shore Hospital and the play is full of acutely observed details and instantly recognisable characters.
Downey displays consummate skill in the demanding art of the one-man show and seems to effortlessly carry off the lightning quick character changes that allow to him to hold up both sides of a conversation.
Anders Falstie-Jensen's finely balanced direction is well supported by a production design that uses simple devices to depict the play's starkly contrasting domains.
Jarrod Neems' and Rob McDonald's sound design is particularly effective in underscoring Downey's rendition of The Battle of Maldon - an Anglo-Saxon poem that fittingly celebrates one of history's heroic failures. The poem describes how the English sense of fair play resulted in catastrophic military defeat but saw the losers remembered far longer than the victors.
The Orderly has already enjoyed successful productions in Auckland and Wellington and this short return season should allow a wider audience to see the play. The season coincides with Hospice Awareness Week and half of the box office takings will be donated to the North Shore and Mercy hospices.