Home » Reviews » Off West End » Freedom, Books, Flowers, and The Moon, Waterloo East Theatre

Freedom, Books, Flowers, and The Moon, Waterloo East Theatre

Sarah Pitard
Directed by Cat Robey

Pros: A dedicated adaptation of Wilde’s fairy tales for children. A perfectly sized production for the space in question.

Cons: A slightly (only slightly) dragged out second half. Also, some interactions seemed a tiny bit deliberate and unrealistic.

Our Verdict: A well thought-out and penetrating adaptation of two of Wilde’s best loved shorts. A nice venue as well, with a relaxed crowd and very professional front-of-house staff. A real rose among the thorns in terms of fringe venues.

Courtesy of Paradigm Theatre

Absolutely nothing good came from the Nazi ideas and actions, but it generated a lot of potential material for future artists to utilize in generating some beautiful art through the exploration of relationships of love, affection and compassion during such a time when all three were lacking. It also enables audiences to remember the ghastly history of World War II and thank God that they (the majority anyway) haven’t had to experience anything on that scale. Sarah Pitard chooses to set her latest play during that time within this harsh reality. She is a playwright with not just a vision, but also with the ability to turn that into something tangible and worthwhile. In this production, she has been able to utilize that awful place and setting to generate two distinct yet compatible plays. Not only this but she has used two stories from the much loved Oscar Wilde and placed them into this setting which works well to bring another level to Wilde’s emotional fairy tales.

The first act is an adaptation of The Nightingale and the Rose. Florica (the Nightingale played by Tamar Karabetyan) is in love with Besnik (Anthony Acosta) who in turn loves another, Helen. Helen has asked Besnik to get her a red rose and Florica, with only love and selflessness in her heart, puts her life in danger to make Besnik happy. The character of Florica could very easily come across as naïve, but Karabetyan portrays her so delicately that instead of naivety we see a generous soul, a truly believable character really very much in keeping with Wilde’s beautiful Nightingale. While it has been set during the Nazi era, and this does nothing to detract from the performance, I perhaps think this play could be transported into a number of different places and times, and still Wilde’s moral story of love and Pitard’s sensitive adaptation would work well.

The second half of the show is an adaptation of The Happy Prince. I particularly loved this half, as we watched an old, rich man confined to his house and a young, bright gypsy girl dying of tuberculosis form a loving father-daughter relationship which enabled them to help others in suffering. I must admit though, that my enjoyment of this half did come somewhat from my very, very strong emotional attachment to the story itself. I have vivid memories of reading this book as a child and weeping over the pages, much like Sarah Pitard said she and her father did, and so it was a relief to me when tears sprang to my eyes during the show. Clearly this was an emotional and driven performance. The adaptation was sensible and loyal. Bethan Hanks portrayed Isabella (the Swallow) with huge enthusiasm and genuine feeling, while Jeremy Gagan was particularly excellent as Mr Prin (The Happy Prince).

In terms of the non-performance side of the production, the projection and sound were excellent, and the choice and placement of music was thoughtful and poignant. The lights were basic, as is often the best idea in spaces such as the Waterloo East Theatre, but I thought that sometimes the colouring didn’t quite make sense and once or twice actors performed half in and half out of the lighting. Saying this however, the design of the show was perfect for the space in which it was being performed. All too often I see a stage too large for a small production, but this show used the space with style.

As a brief conclusion, I’m not sure how well the plays would have translated if done word for word but I thought they were very loyal to Wilde. In addition, what could have created too much for the audience to take in – placing Wilde’s already touching stories about agape love within a Nazi landscape – actually allowed those who were unfortunate enough not to know the original stories to become involved with the characters. I would urge anyone and everyone to go and see this show, or at least read the short stories that will, hopefully, fill you with a vast array of emotions.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Freedom, Books, Flowers and The Moon runs at the Waterloo East Theatre until 25th November 2012.
Box Office: 020 7928 0060 or book online at http://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/freedom,%20books,%20flowers%20and%20the%20moon.html

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