When I arrived at the theatre, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Flowers of the Forest, a play that hasn’t been performed in the UK since the 1930s, before the start of World War Two.
The staging was rather intense and intimate, just like being in someone’s front room. It looked rather small but later on in the show I was impressed by the walls that came out to change the room from the 1934 home of Naomi and Lewis, to the 1914 family home of Naomi, Mercia and their parents.
Before the show started there was atmospheric music playing, which having listened to old songs with my grandparents, made me think of the 1930s. There was a gramophone – which set the scene, and the music sounded exactly how you would imagine the period. This added to, and built up the atmosphere before the play began.
Victoria Rigby who played Beryl Hodgson was on stage a short while before the play officially started. She was composed in character reading the newspaper. Beryl is a bright young lady who is Lewis’ secretary. Beryl seems like a minor character but later on her involvement links both the past and the present.
Flowers of the Forest begins set in 1934, in Bedford Square London, home of Naomi and Lewis Jacklin. They appear to be a wealthy couple, living a seemingly happy lifestyle, on the surface that is. However, when Naomi’s past love Richard is mentioned in conversation alongside the impending visit of her sister Mercia, following the death of their father, Naomi’s thoughts then wander to the past. Her sister has brought a number of old love letters that have Naomi all in a tizz. Debra Penny who plays Mercia adds humour, and questions Naomi’s lifestyle. Naomi brushes off her sister’s accusations but deep down her words have hit a nerve and Naomi starts to wonder.
At this point the play goes back in time to 1914, in the lead up to World War One. We are then shown a snapshot of Naomi and Mercia’s life at that time, before both of their then loved ones Tommy and Richard go to war. Love is in the air and tensions are high between both couples.
Sophie Ward, probably best known for her role in the film Young Sherlock Holmes, plays the self-assured and brash Naomi Jacklin. I feel the audience see the real Naomi at this time.
The young girl, has just admitted she’s in love and is loved, so how can she bear to lose him so soon. She knows that the men are to fight but that doesn’t mean she’s just going to sit and worry. She enlists as a nurse and does all she can to help whilst the war goes on, where she also sees a lot that she wished she hadn’t at such a young age.
Flowers of the Forest is a truly powerful play that features a number of everyday themes. It encompasses beauty, evil, love, sadness, friendship, family, loss, lost love, hope, religion, duty, propaganda and war. Wow! I was truly blown away by the sheer magnetism of the show. It’s not your average show with an easy to read ending, your heart will well and truly be in your mouth. I may have also shed a tear when I realised how these characters would interlink. There is pure beauty in such a heart-breaking tale.
Considering all the themes featured are very real and raw, I love that Alwyne Taylor’s character Mrs Huntbach added humour to the seriousness of the play. She really did make me smile amongst the sadness. All of the cast were outstanding. This is a powerful tale that may well make you think differently about life, and make you grateful to those who lost their lives for our country.
Flowers of the Forest is more than just a play, it is simply a work of art by the artistic playwright John Van Druten. Directed by Anthony Biggs, this is a wonderful and emotional play, that will have you thinking about life, everything we should be grateful for, as well as everything we should be grateful we haven’t endured.
Review by Hayley Thorpe
FLOWERS OF THE FOREST by John Van Druten
Directed by Anthony Biggs
Designer Victoria Johnstone
Lighting Designer Charlie Lucas
Sound Designer Gareth McLeod
Patrick Drury, Daniel Fine, Jennie Goossens, Gareth McLeod, Debra Penny, Victoria Rigby, Mark Straker, Alwyne Taylor, Gabriel Vick, Max Wilson and Sophie Ward.
FLOWERS OF THE FOREST: 1934, Bedford Square, London. In their beautiful and tasteful home Naomi and Lewis Jacklin live a contented, if unromantic, life of luxury. But when her disapproving sister Mercia arrives unexpectedly one evening with some of Naomi’s old belongings, memories of the past, long since forgotten, flicker to life: a vicarage in Sussex in October 1914, and a final dinner before the men leave for war…
Set during and after the First World War, John van Druten’s Flowers of the Forest is an enthralling, heart-wrenching story of love, memory and devastating loss by one of the most acclaimed playwrights of the 1930s.
Flowers of The Forest is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French Ltd.
Jermyn Street Theatre
Until 18th October 2014
Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm, Saturday/Sunday matinees 3.30pm