Q What does it take to get Andrew back inside a theatre?
A Flower arranging.
Andrew knows a thing or two about arranging dainty blooms and, like Phil, is old enough to have heard of Constance Spry. Well, we knew she was to flowers what Mary Berry is to cookery but we knew little else. Phil also thought she wrote short sentimental poems, but after an interval discussion and much rummaging around in the recesses of their memory banks (like a Much Ado About Nothing lead) decided he was confusing her with Patience Strong.
She also invented ‘Coronation Chicken’, which sadly, is only briefly alluded to in Storm in a Flower Vase, probably because there was so many other things going on in her life there just wasn’t time. Or perhaps she was embarrassed about concocting such a hideous assault on the taste buds? She should be.
The main pleasures of Anton Burge’s play (directed by Alan Strachan) derive from knowing little else about her life, which was, for its day, pretty racy. If you are vaguely aware of Constance Spry (Penny Downie) and intend to see this play, take heed of this SPOILER ALERT.
After giving up teaching in the late 1920s Spry’s arrangements both domestic and floral became something of a sensation among the fashionable. She had a husband of sorts (Christopher Ravenscroft), an insipid chap by this account, who really doesn’t look as if he’d have the energy to stray, let alone pick up a phone. As we see here he was quite capable of doing both.
Spry found solace elsewhere too. Cue the single-monikered Gluck (Carolyn Backhouse) a lady artist with a penchant for men’s tailoring who found inspiration in Spry’s designs and had designs on a same-sex deflowering of their creator too.
Presumably the budget is fairly limited for this play but it doesn’t show in the simple but elegant set from Morgan Large, the costuming, or the vast amounts of ‘flowers’ which fill the production. We can’t recall an on-stage flower shop since Little Shop of Horrors. From mid-stalls the blooms looked pretty convincing to us, even if Andrew did have a few problems with some of the arranging. But then Andrew doesn’t have to act when he’s being creative with crocuses. Or maybe he does. Phil is yet to witness him in action.
The cast range from the underpowered to the overpowering. Syrie Maugham (Carol Royle), friend of Spry and wife of W. Somerset makes quite an impression; obviously quite a handful for anyone, let alone her husband. But then Somerset’s hands were quite full elsewhere anyway.
It’s one of those plays where lines are forced to fill in the back story and context rather awkwardly. We couldn’t help but laugh quietly at Spry’s description of the Easter Rising. And the performance is punctuated by her lectures which are performed in front of slide shows of her work, which just adds to the episodic feel of the whole production.
Rambling and definitely in need of trimming with secateurs.
In the wake of The Great British Bake Off, we assume TV companies are looking for another middle class pastime to cause a sensation in the ratings. May we suggest a knockout show set around flower arranging? We’ll be quite happy to take a royalty for the suggestion. Our lawyers are primed.