Pros: Fascinating domestic drama with strong performances that will strike a nostalgic chord for many.
Cons: Struggles to get the psychological heart of its main character.
Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the most telling drama, and could certainly be said to be so for the Finborough Theatre’s revival of Robert Bolt’s little-known 1957 play Flowering Cherry.
For promotional purposes, comparisons have been draw with Death of a Salesman, and it’s easy to see why. A working man, deluded or willingly blind to the realities of his life puts his unfathomably loyal wife through hell. But this play is a different beast: a smaller, more intimately domestic story. It’s focus is much on the family than Mr Cherry’s socio-economic position. He’s in insurance but yearns to return the rural, apple-growing Somerset of his childhood. As well as being a dreamer, he drinks and lies and steals from his wife. The action never leaves the confines of the family’s cramped home.
Mr Cherry’s delusion is well-played by Liam McKenna. There are moments when he so absurd, such as his tall tales about the behind of a fire iron, that it’s hard to watch, but there are also fleeting moments of tragic self-awareness. You’re never really quite sure what’s going on under the surface but you feel that Mr Cherry has no idea who he is or what it is he wants, either. He’s a vacuum filled with empty dreams, and booze. At times he strays into cartoonish but what is there is there is incisive and familiar: despite the passage of decades, we all probably know a Mr Cherry. While he is at turns foolish and cruel, there’s much to admire about wife Bella played with intelligence and dignity by Catherine Kanter. Both firm and willing to forgive, she’s so much more than the stereotypical 50s housewife. While when should pity her life with her feckless husband, her dignity forbids it.
His upwardly mobile children, played by James Musgrave and Hannah Morrish, idolise TS Eliot and despise their father. While it’s little explored, there’s a tantalising glimpse of possible parallels crossing the obvious generation gap.
The Finborough’s black-box space is beautifully transformed into a realistic late 50s home by Alex Marker and, while it’s deeply alien from today’s mod-con residencences, the familiarity of elderly relatives’ clocks and tableware lends a kind of hotline to who these people are.
Director Benjamin Whitrow, who also does a lovely turn has the doddering and gossipy Grass, eeks much out of what is essentially a simple play, cleverly drawing out the subtle class politics and changing social mores but the overwhelming sense is that it is a highly realistic drama. For all the Mr Cherry’s in the world, the more things change, the more things stay the same.
Director: Benjamin Whitrow
Presented by: Troupe
Booking Until: December 20
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.