Tag Archives: Benjamin Whitrow

“Flowering Cherry” at the Finborough Theatre

Pursuing this excellent venue’s tactic of rediscovering plays, director Benjamin Whitrow offers a fine revival of a well-written and intriguing text from 1957, which is enjoying its first London production since its premiere. Writer Robert Bolt, of A Man For All Seasons fame, is the author of this quietly profound domestic drama of dreams and divorce.

Jim Cherry wants an orchard like the one he grew up on, and drives his family mad with dreams of it. It’s an obsession fuelled by a love of scrumpy cider that’s so bad as to be called a “hallucination” at one point. Liam McKenna does well to show us his character’s instability in this difficult lead role. But will his dream be the death of this salesman?

Our sympathies swing against the charismatic Jim as his delusions and drunkenness increase. Still, his children’s disdain, well evoked by James Musgrave and Hannah Morrish, is disconcerting. Bolt is precise in his depiction of intergenerational conflict, even if plummy accents raise a smile. More problematic is the kids’ flirtatious friend Carol, with whom everyone falls in love. Phoebe Sparrow portrays this ambiguous cool cat who toys with any mice tempted to play with her.

It’s Jim’s wife Isobel who becomes the centre of the play, with credit due to Catherine Kanter’s skill in the role. A mercurial character, possibly a little too admirable or patient to be believed, more time might have be given her mood swings by Whitrow, but Kanter commands attention as the extent of her suffering dawns on the audience. Isobel’s “bones are tender” with the continual pressure of her husband’s “cardboard prospects” and she grows into a powerful figure who, it is hoped will be the one to blossom.

Until 20 December 2015


Photo by Gabriela Restelli

“The White Carnation” at the Jermyn Street Theatre

After a sell out run at the Finborough Theatre, The White Carnation finds a new home at the Jermyn Street Theatre and started a short run last night. R.C. Sherriff’s story of a successful stockbroker’s life, which takes a supernatural twist when he returns as a ghost seven years after the war, has waited sixty years for its first revival and this skilled production serves it well.

In the lead role of self-made man John Greenwood, Michael Praed is a touch too urbane, but he deals with the incredible situation stylishly and is full of charisma. Praed delivers the play’s thoughtful moments well, including a burgeoning romance with a librarian; it’s not his fault this aspect of the writing feels like an underdeveloped J.B. Priestly play. Greenwood seems oddly tranquil with his predicament. The reckoning this ghost needs to settle is with his wife, but Sherriff adds atonement – as a kind of fable – too late.

The majority of the play deals humorously with the implications of Greenwood’s spectral status. Firstly, with the town councillor, played by a delightfully outraged Robert Benfield, who hopes to solve housing problems by tearing down the property he now finds haunted (he deals with matters in a far more civilised fashion than I imagine Eric Pickles would). Then with a nice gentleman from the Home Office, managed in appropriate style by Philip York, hoping this inconvenient ectoplasm will emigrate. The local vicar, Benjamin Whitrow, truly stealing his scene, trumps both.

Ridicule of the establishment in The White Carnation is effective, but gentle. Surely it all seemed a touch tame back in 1953 as well? Even Blythe Spirit has more bite. Now the whole affair is gloriously steeped in nostalgia, a fact that director Knight Mantell and his cast seem cleverly aware of. This quality affair is too sweet for sure, but it’s also a treat.

Until 22 February 2014


Photo by Mitzi De Margary

Written 7 February 2014 for The London Magazine