The Man With the Flower in his Mouth @ Combibos Coffee, Gloucester Green

Posted: May 7, 2011 in Fringe, Review
Tags: , , ,

05/05/11

On a warm summers night in Oxford, I am sitting in a café, sipping on a glass of water. Beside me, a woman reads a magazine, and outside, a man in a red velvet smoking jacket and bowler hat peers curiously through the window. This was the setting for Mettta theatres new adaptation of Pirandello’s one act play ‘The Man with the Flower in his Mouth’, and its story is a very simple one.

In a late-night café, a man strikes up a conversation with a woman who has missed her train. He learns a little about her, then speak to her about savouring the small details, and living an imaginative life. It is almost idyllic in it’s tone, were it not for the dark moments peppered throughout.

 Pirandello presents to us a man with a feverish imagination and a burning desire to live, and a woman, burdened with parcels and troubles, killing time after missing the last train. In a way, they are the antithesis of one another, but the script allows our ‘man with a flower’ to speak with such passion and intellect, that their common ground become increasingly clear.

‘My imagination takes hold of the smallest detail,’ he says and we can readily believe him. For reasons, which gradually emerge, the unnamed Man is living his life with a an almost reckless intensity, marvelling at details such as the beauty of a sales assistant wrapping a package, and revelling in the pleasures of his imagination. But his love of life is inextricably linked with death. He sees people all around ignoring death, distracted by petty irritations. “I’d kill myself”, he says in a disturbingly warm manner, “but the plums are just ripening”.

It is testament to the quality of the production that ripening plums somehow become a logical antidote to suicide, and the number of blades in a handful of grass evidently measure out the remainder of a mans life. Samuel Collings was certainly inspiring as our ‘man’ – I felt I was witnessing a man on the verge of a breakdown, grasping onto the small details in a bid to remain calm in the face of his own demise. It was as though we were only permitted to see a glimpse of his anguish, the rest safely locked away beneath the surface, but it came out in occasional stilted bursts that were heartbreaking to watch.

 I felt it a shame that his counterpart, Liana Weafer, did not have more to do, but she certainly did an admirable job of allowing Collings to feed from her physical responses. It did leave me wondering, though, if the adaptation was flawed. Wile Burton-Morgan has sensibly avoided completely modernizing the story, by changing the gender of our stranger to a female; she has allowed herself some liberties with the text. Surely this could have continued by giving her a voice? I couldn’t help but feel that a new adaptation was the perfect opportunity to create a dialogue between these two characters.

The café setting is clever, as we can allow ourselves to believe we are truly witnessing this exchange. The waitress behind the counter genuinely works at the coffee shop, and the smell of the coffee they drink drifts over to the audience. We are entirely immersed in their world, which allows us to pay attention to the finer details of this performance. I did wonder, however, why the company chose to set the audience as though it were an end-on performance – surely this was what they were trying to avoid by staging this piece in a café? A braver decision might have been to leave the café exactly as it was, and let audience’s strain to see the action, though this may be my penchant for immersive theatre filtering through.

I was struck by the simplicity of the piece as a whole: and the direction was splendid, but there were flaws. All the same, I could excuse these flaws in the face of such an outstanding performance from Collings, and the script certainly left me thinking. ‘Good, not great’ seems an apt description, but a rather dour one, considering the deeper questions this play asks. Is he right? Can life really be lived with complete commitment? – any play that leaves me pondering this question long into the night should surely be worth a look.

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