2 October 2014
Woman of Flowers is an innovative re-telling of an ancient Welsh myth where nothing is quite as it seems. Currently on tour to rural venues in Wales and the South, Tom Wentworth saw the Forest Forge production at the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre on 27 September
'Sophie Stone is mesmerising' was the first thing I told a friend after seeing Forest Forge's brilliant production. Based on the story of Blodeuwedd, Woman of Flowers, from a branch of The Mabinogion, the production uses a range of 'textures' - from sound, live music and video - which blend together to create a compelling and intriguing piece of theatre for our times.
At the epi-centre of all this is Kaite O' Reilly's script which sparkles with her trademark wit and use of evocative language which feels, although heightened, completely naturalistic within the setting of the isolated world of forest. Meant to be a safe haven for Rose (Stone), who cannot remember how she got here, we soon realise that all is not as it seems.
Can Rose really be made out of flowers as she has always been told? As an audience we are led to feel that in this world anything might just be possible. But is her captivity - with no access to news, visitors or a life of her own really for her own good and protection? We soon witness her daily life through a brilliantly choreographed sequence where she prepares food.
Alongside the written text, the production should be highly praised for it's use of theatrical sign language, which is present throughout the piece as Rose's 'secret language.' Sophie Stone has worked with Creative Sign Director Jean St Clair to turn Rose's written monologues into visual, physical and visceral language which truly sings like a caged bird. (Birds feature heavily throughout the production.)
Surtitles are provided throughout, but I was so captivated by the physicality that I soon abandoned the surtitles to give full attention to the emotional and secret world that Rose was letting us in on. The Farmer (played by Andrew Wheaton) looks on, emphasising that we are seeing a forbidden, illicit language.
Much credit must be given to director Kirstie Davis who keeps the cast onstage and omnipresent throughout, adding a great deal of tension. Plus, Pete Ashmore proves himself to be both an excellent actor and a fine violinist as his character seduces Rose whilst playing in a scene which makes you want to hold your breath due to its heat! Rebecca Aplin's music adds further layers to this complex world. Meanwhile, Tom Brownlee's Gwynne simmers with sexual frustration and anguish, making you both want to hate and pity him simultaneously.
Woman of Flowers perfectly shows a timid girl as she awakens to the possibilities of life. I was left quite exhausted but elated after 80 minutes of emotional ups and downs but with a renewed sense of value for my independence and freedom. I am convinced that it will do the same for you.
This wonderful production deserves more of an audience. It should be seen by everyone. Don't wait - do see this before it flies away! Oh and did I mention? 'Sophie Stone is mesmerising'.
Forest Forge Theatre Company take Woman of Flowers by Kaite O'Reilly on tour to rural venues in Wales, the South-west, and South-east until 1 November. Please click on this link for details