THE JUST PRICE OF FLOWERS: James Yarker
Stan’s Cafe with Birmingham Rep
At AE Harris, 100 Northwich St, Birmingham
www.stanscafe.co.uk / www.aeharrisvenue.co.uk
Runs: 1h 20m, no interval, till 30 June
Review: Alexander Ray, 19 06 12
Tulipmania gives rise to a gem in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.
A play built around the Tulip Bulb bubble of the 17th Century as a means of exploring the financial jiggery-pokery of today doesn’t sound like a bagful of laughs. It just goes to show how wrong one can be. THE JUST PRICE OF FLOWERS is a brilliantly crafted satire; very witty and as enlightening as it is funny. And it somehow manages to be both easy-going and hard-hitting.
It’s also a bold attempt to exploit Brechtian techniques – not just the much used and abused alienation technique (yawn) but having the actors demonstrate their story as an instrument of distancing.
Yarker’s understanding of the economics of our present position and his ability to translate this into history is incisive – borrowing money against each new strain of tulip, counting on the off-sets, having to keep track of who owns what bulb planted where in whose garden and by whom and sold on to whomsoever. We certainly get the picture. As do we when the Banker describes the reasons you might need a bit of extra cash; Yarker’s historical look into the future of washing machines, dishwashers and patios replete with BBQs is a gem. Most grateful, too, for advice against investing in dodgy things like Rembrandt paintings.
The performance could gain from a sharper focus of acting which at times loses accuracy, and therefore comedic bite. With 21 scenes, transitions could do with being tightened up, too. Having said this, some fascinating creations from the cross-gender playing merchants, The striking Valerie Cutko as Florestein, and Bernadette Russell as the Banker (aka van Hire(?)). True to life, it’s the workers who come off worst, encapsulated in a nicely down-played performance by Gerald Bell, the down-trodden Worker (aka van Driver).
An additional delight must be mentioned; stunning origami props by Brian Duffy – goblets, fans, a peacock and, of course, tulips. Not just objects of beauty, but cleverly, another reflection of the play’s themes.
Worker: Garard Bell
Florestein: Valerie Cutko
Narrator: Jill Dowse
Wife: Charlotte Gregory
Banker: Bernadette Russell
Financier: Craig Stephens
Husband: Jack Trow
Direction: James Yarker
Lyricws: Craig Stephens
Music: Brian Duffy and Jill Dowse
Lighting Designer: Simon Bond
Origami: Brian Duffy