Freedom, Books, Flowers, and the Moon Review

In the second play produced by Paradigm Theatre Company we again are treated to new writing. Freedom, Books, Flowers, and the Moon by Artistic Director and Playwright in Residence is an adaptation of two short stories by Oscar Wilde: The Nightingale and the Rose and The Happy Prince. Each story forms a stand alone play but they are connected in context and tone and complement each other well. Importantly they are also not just stagings of the stories but properly transformative adaptations.

Waterloo East Theatre is an interesting space, it’s long and thin but still manages to create a delightful intimacy. The rumble of trains overhead also provided ambient noise that at times really complemented the action. It lent a sinister overtone to both pieces. There was trouble brewing in this world and no one; however idealistic they were could escape that reality that was coming. As writer Sarah Pitard writes in the program these adaptations “ground the fairy-tales in reality...a much harsher reality” in the lead up to World War II the rise of the oppressive Nazi regime, rumblings from above work well in this context.

In the first play Besnik, a gypsy is in love with Helen, a Rich German and he has little hope of wooing her. She gives him an ultimatum to find her a rare red rose or she will not entertain even the thought. Florica, also a gypsy loves Besnik and determines to prove her own love to him by stealing the rose that he needs, at great sacrifice to herself.

In the short story we are left under no illusion of the sacrifice that the nightingale makes for her love. In this adaptation we do not return to Florica’s fate, I feel that perhaps we needed to see the ugliness of that unnecessary violence on stage to contrast of Besnik’s rather poetic broken heart. His ‘loss’ is made after all more poignant if we are reminded at what he has truly lost. It would have been an ideal opportunity to maybe return to space behind the beautiful gate and for us to witness Florica behind bars in dramatic contrast to his declaration of love.

I think it says much for the great set that it sparked further imagery (at least in me) beyond the play. Zanna Mercer’s design is very effective and evocative. The main set piece is a large iron gate – that doubles as a door in the second play. It gives a solid presence to both works and a visual focal point to the action without imposing an arbitrary symbol.

The second play involves the Richest Man in Germany – Mr. Prin giving away the last of his wealth to save those most in need. Isabella, a gypsy child is his means to deliver his wealth. But she is dying and they are both racing against their ailing health as well as the tide of Nazism and intolerance that is sweeping the country. In this play, the consequences are dramatically played out and we witness their actual pain as well as experience it through Isabella’s friend Kurt.

Cat Robey demonstrated an assured Direction of both works and an instinctive grasp of the special potential in the set in the second play. It gave a nice balance to the staging having the actors work at the front of the raised stage and was a neat way of transforming the space beyond the house and into the wider town where Isabella can venture but Mr. Prin can no longer go.

The entire cast of this production are excellent, both of the plays called for double casting and this is worked in well and is never distracting. I would make particular mention of Bethan Hanks (Isabella) and Theo Ancient (Kurt) who pull off very convincing characters much younger than themselves without ever becoming cloying or cute. Both of these children know that their love will not survive her illness or his country’s need for hatred but nevertheless their wide-eyed characters were delightful and ultimately very moving.

In an industry where new voices and new writing often struggle to find a platform it is good to see a new company taking chances with Rep theatre and producing new work. However in its own right Freedom, Books, Flowers, and the Moon is a very satisfying evening of theatre, and you can’t ask for more than that.

Freedom, Books, Flowers, and the Moon is currently playing at the Waterloo East Theatre and you can book tickets and find information here.