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A CurtainUp London London Review
Flowering Cherry

"All right, you'll see, one day I'll surprise you; one spring I'll surprise you" — Jim Cherry
Flowering Cherry
Liam McKenna as Jim Cherry and Catherine Canter as Isobel (Photo: Gabriela Restelli)
When Robert Bolt's first play, Flowering Cherry, was reviewed in 1957 Milton Shulman compared it to Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. I didn't know this before I saw Troupe's 2015 production, but by the interval I was finding similarities myself— the aggression of the main character Jim Cherry (Liam McKenna), his desperate desire for a different kind of life, the lack of respect he shows his wife Isobel (the magnificent Catherine Kanter) and his aggression towards his son Tom (James Musgrave). Flowering Cherry takes a man's fantasy and slowly shows that it will always be a fantasy, not because it isn't possible but because of his lack of nerve and action and self deception.

In the first scene, Tom and his mother discuss the impending letter summoning him for two years national service in the army. Both Cherry children are at a crossroads. Tom's sister Judy (Hannah Morrish) is at art college learning fabric design and is desperate to win the scholarship so she can leave home with the father she despises and live in a flat with her socially confident, attractive friend Carol (Phoebe Sparrow). Robert Bolt's play has such detailed stage directions giving the actors much to hang their characters on.

Jim Cherry rolls in from work with ja unior colleague but older man, Gilbert Grass (actor and director Benjamin Whitrow). Grass is conventionally dressed for an office job, dark suit and bowler hat but Cherry wears a loud checked oatmeal crumpled suit with a brown trilby. Bolt tells us that Cherry is burly and has a red, round face and thinning grey hair. He looks more betting shop manager than area manager for an insurance company. Cherry tells Grass that he has told the boss where to put his job that day. Cherry talks about his dream of owning a small holding, 15 acres of apple trees, selling apples and making cider and keeping a few white hens.

Isobel Cherry struggles to keep the family in harmony and Catherine Kanter gives the best performance of the night as a 1950s housewife with no economic independence from her bullying husband. It is hard to see why she married this burly man. I found Jim Cherry most unsympathetic with his bad habits, lying, stealing, drinking scrumpy topped up with gin, flirting with girls less than half his age and valuing the ability to bend an iron poker as a measure of manhood.

I liked too James Musgrave's performance as the 19 year old son who is given a hard time by his father but who still needs his father's love and concern. There are a lot of unmet needs in this play. Phoebe Sparrow as Carol is a real femme fatale, attracting the whole family but mainly James as a boyfriend and Judy longing for a friend and flatmate who will introduce her to a new life. There is a fine cameo from Ashley Cooke as David Bowman, sales representative of orchard growers whom Jim is stringing along.

The design is nicely detailed in the family's suburban kitchen with the willow pattern china displayed in the dresser and I loved the magazines coming through the post wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. Judy wears some fashionable patterned skirts maybe to her own design but Carol looks stunning in well cut plain trews.

I had a hard time deciding which Cherry is flowering as they all seem to be withering on the branches rather than blossoming. Maybe it is ultimately Isobel Cherry? There are aspects to the play which are melodramatic but these are good performances. I would have liked to feel more empathy for Jim Cherry as I failed to see his good qualities. He also didn't seem to have been attractive in his youth, he is so lacking in charm and I couldn't really understand why Isobel had married him or why Carol was flirting with him. There are some flaws in Flowering Cherry but there is plenty to engage and think about in the context of the post war 1950s economic prosperity which would lead to the Prime Minister saying in 1957, "You've never had it so good".

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Flowering Cherry
Written by Robert Bolt
Directed by Benjamin Whitrow

With: Benjamin Whitrow, Liam McKenna, Catherine Kanter, James Musgrave, Hannah Morrish, Phoebe Sparrow, Ashley Cook
Designer: Alex Marker
Costume Designer: Janet Hudson-Holt
Lighting: Peter Harrison
Sound: Lucinda Mason Brown
A Troupe production in association with Neil McPherson
Running time: Two hours with an interval
Box Office 0844 847 1652
Booking to 20th December 2015
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th November 2015 performance at the Finborough, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED (Tube: Earls Court)
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