The Theatreguide.London Review
Finborough Theatre Autumn 2015
It is tempting to see Robert Bolt's 1957 drama as a variant on Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman. Both plays centre on a small, unsuccessful man who hides from the awareness of his failure in dreams of success and happiness just around the corner.
But the differences between the two plays are significant, the first being that while Willy Loman is trapped in his fantasy and unable to imagine that he's wrong, Bolt's Jim Cherry consciously uses what he knows are lies to impress others and himself with an image of his potential.
Jim is an insurance man who dreams of chucking it all to buy and run an apple orchard of the sort he grew up on. He reads farm magazines, lays out a ground plan for his imaginary orchard and, at his most successfully self-delusional, comes right up to the edge of actually buying trees to plant.
But, momentary lapses like that aside, he always knows in his heart that this is all a pipe dream, and just as he will never be able to bend an iron bar like the real farmer he once knew, he will never actually own an orchard.
So Jim's story is that of a man less destroyed by a dream than by his own smallness of soul. Jim does it to himself, he is usually aware that he's doing it to himself, and he is even aware of the ways he is hurting others, but he is ultimately too selfish to care.
On that domestic, life-sized level, the play has a lot to offer in its small touches. We see, for example, how easily and eagerly his family try to believe in Jim's dreams even when they see more clearly than he.
We watch the inclination to confuse hope with reality begin to infect the others, as when his daughter's hunger for an academic award makes her say and even believe that she's already won it.
We see others slipping into fantasy self-images to blind themselves to reality, like the young woman trying to appear sophisticated while actually just using her sexuality to tease and manipulate.
And even Jim's long-suffering but loyal wife is almost consciously playing the role of long-suffering but loyal wife to keep from having to face the failure of her husband and her marriage.
All these characterisations and insights make for engrossing and convincing domestic drama. Even the fact that the roles and responses the characters adopt approach cliches rings true, because these little people would think in cliches.
Benjamin Whitrow's production nicely captures all the play's small psychological insights, while Liam McKenna as Jim and Catherine Kanter as his wife stand out in a cast that is otherwise uneven.
Flowering Cherry is a small play, and this modest production succeeds by not trying to make it any bigger than it is.
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Review - Flowering Cherry - Finborough Theatre 2015