Iconic floral designer and cookery writer Constance Spry remains a household name to this day. A pioneer for working women, she ran a successful business as the florist of choice for the highest of high society, designing floral displays for royal weddings and for the Queen’s coronation as well as creating the iconic dish Coronation Chicken. But behind the image of this highly respected businesswoman lay a very different story of marital discord, affairs and heartache….
23 September 2013
Storm in a Flower Vase - Arts Theatre, Friday 20th September 2013
Constance Spry – Penny Downie
Henry Spry – Christopher Ravenscroft
Val Pirie – Sally George
Rosemary Hume – Sheila Ruskin
Hannah Gluckstein – Carolyn Backhouse
Syrie Maugham – Carol Royle
Writer – Anton Burge
Director – Alan Strachan
Design – Morgan Large
Lighting – James Whiteside
WARNING – THIS PLAY CONTAINS SMOKING. THERE IS ALSO ADULTERY, DECEIT, LESBIANISM AND SEX OUTSIDE MARRIAGE BUT YOU WILL BE CONFRONTED BY A SIGN ON THE AUDITORIUM DOORS WARNING YOU THAT CIGARETTES ARE GOING TO BE SMOKED ON STAGE. IF YOUR SENSIBILITIES CAN COPE WITH ADULTERY, DECEIT, LESBIANISM AND SEX OUTSIDE MARRIAGE BUT YOU FALL INTO A SWOON AT THE MERE THOUGHT OF TOBACCO BEING CONSUMED ON THE STAGE, DO NOT BUY TICKETS FOR THIS PLAY.
When making a flower arrangement, it is important not to try and cram in too much material, otherwise you may overwhelm the design. The stems of this play are far too long and need a good trim down. Even the hardier blooms in the audience on Friday began to wilt as the play ticked towards 2 ¾ hours. I began to need an aspirin dissolved in the water. Some of the material in the arrangement needs cutting back, and some elements are too showy and threaten to unbalance the layout in their favour. Conversely, some parts resemble foliage stuck in to bulk out the design. Never, ever, over-vase your flowers.
This is an old-fashioned arrangement of a kind that will appeal to a certain audience. It will find favour among middle aged, middle class ladies who belong to the WI and who consider themselves too old to go out on the lash before screaming obscenities from the rear stalls at The Bodyguard. There will be coach parties coming up from the Home Counties, armed with OASIS, pin holders and crumpled chicken wire.
Penny Downie “Constance Spry” is a hardy perennial and is shown off to good effect in this particular vase, working particularly well in this arrangement. The creeping bindweed in the plot is the role of Hannah Gluckstein, scrambling all over several long scenes and in need of cutting back. It is an unsympathetic, stereotypical part, badly written and, like Ruta graveolens (rue), irritating after a while and frankly somewhat embarrassing. The appalling wig a la Glenda Jackson on a particularly bad hair day doesn’t help. Conversely Carol Royle “Syrie Maugham” appears in two scenes and blooms gaudily all over them, pulling focus from the other parts and threatening to overbalance the arrangement. Always strive for harmony in your arrangements, ladies. Each specimen must support but not outshine the others. Fortunately, good support is offered by Christopher Ravenscroft as a dry old stick propping up some of the foliage.
An opportunity was lost here to create drama. Spry’s arrangements were always dramatic but, like a branch of Corkscrew Hazel, this representation weaves about all over the place and doesn’t really come to any definable conclusion. Rather like the one floral arrangement at the local flower show that fails to win any prizes, it is pleasant enough but there’s no real drama. The end of the first act is a bit of a fudge – everyone leaves the stage and the lights dim, and therefore the audience thinks its time to clap, but then the lights go up again to reveal a solitary painting hung in an art gallery. The applause dies out – and then the lights go down again and everyone has to start clapping again. We may possibly have been mislead into clapping as Carole Royle’s mother was obviously in the audience and applauded on her exit. When this happened again after Ms. Royle’s one scene in the second half, nobody was fooled and the auditorium rang out with the sound of one person clapping. They soon stopped when they realised nobody else followed suit.
There are an awful lot of plastic flowers in this show. Unfortunately Monkshood (aconitum napellus) is referred to as being in the first bunch you see but there isn’t any in it. There is also a red Anemone “De Caen” in a scene that takes place in January, which is wrong, because Anemone “De Caen” blossoms in April. At one point a painting is made of a floral arrangement. The painting contains a single bloom of Anthurium but the floral arrangement it depicts does not – there are white tulips, calla lilies, narcissus and sprays of some kind of daisy-type “filler” flower but no Anthuriums. One of the characters in the play is based on Syrie Maugham but this is spelt as “Maughan” in the programme. The back of the programme carries an advert for what I assume is a hideously expensive Covent Garden florist. The photograph in this advert is of appalling quality. The photograph includes a large arrangement of deep red flowers (possibly roses, but the picture is of too poor a quality to be sure). The picture is in black and white. Red flowers do not show up well in black and white images and you would have thought that a) a professional photographer would have known this and b) the firm it advertises would have commissioned a better picture both in terms of quality and presentation of their products. There is a facebook tag on the back of the flyer with the facebook “F” followed by “artstheatrewestend”. Unfortunately this makes it read as Fartstheatrewestend.
Personally, I think “Storm in a Flower Vase” is a really, really naff title and smacks of desperation because the author couldn’t think of a better alternative. The root phrase “storm in a teacup describes something which is wildly overblown but really adds up to nothing very much, a bit like this play. Inoffensive, pleasant enough, slightly old fashioned and over-vased.