FLOWERING CHERRY at The Finborough Theatre ****
Nov 19 2015
This play was last produced in London over 50 years ago and Finborough have done it again and uncovered a gem of a play. I realise I have loved a lot of Robert Bolt’s work, but had never seen or heard of this and was bowled over by the power of it last night. His first West End play no wonder it ran for well over 400 performances on its original showing at the Royal Court.
Apparently compared to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman when it was originally produced in 1957 with Ralph Richardson and Celia Johnson playing Isobel and Jim Cherry. Now played by Liam McKenna and Catherine Kanter who did a great job holding the whole piece together. In this fine performance she was the typical 1950’s wife in her printed pinny, turning on a sixpence trying to hang onto her marriage to a fantasist. Finally she calls his bluff and offers him everything he has dreamt of and his fear stops him, her need for self-preservation kicks in.
Jim is a man lost in a dream which is to buy a farm and grow apple trees. He wants to try to recreate the place he grew up in. He is caught up in a job as an insurance salesman which he purports to hate. His life is filled with fantasy and posturing, bragging about giving in his notice, fuelling his life by the ever present barrel of scrumpy which he drinks constantly, augmenting it with gin.
His two children Judy and Tom only serve to highlight his failing life and his refusal to confront the reality of his condition. His wife is a centre of morality, struggling to impart important values into her children, concerned all the while that they will stray and fail as human beings. The daughter it seems has caught the fantasy of her father; the son, self-aware and intelligent, recognises and sees his father. His shattered respect for him makes him determined not to become like him and he yearns to leave, waiting anxiously for his call-up papers.
Jim, painfully for all, has no self-awareness. Frosty Isobel holds herself tightly throughout it all. The children are pointedly exasperated at their parents. I can imagine it would be difficult to relate to all these characters . Not so for me as, as my age, it all had a ring of authenticity for that era. Jim’s pointed descent into fantasy and self-delusion is at times excruciating and alienating.
I was delighted by the transformation of the Finborough space into a 50’s home, kitchen window and outside patio. It seats about 50 and is a wonderfully intimate and exciting space.
I couldn’t help thinking of my own father who in 1957 would have been 33 with two young children and a new baby. He was somewhat of a fantasist who had also become a salesman. He believed he was chosen and destined for greater things. He also, as so many did, drank too much. But my father’s life was interrupted by the war. He was indeed destined for much and his greatest love was music and playing the piano. At 17 he found himself in a war fighting for his life and the lives of others. It was something he never spoke about. My heart went out to Jim, who also would have been in that war long before anyone knew or talked about PTSS (post traumatic stress symptom). Putting a life back together after such a trauma would be a challenge for anyone.