Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Theatre review: Say It With Flowers

Hampstead Theatre's small studio space Downstairs isn't an obvious venue to try a promenade performance in, but designer Alex Eales gives it a go, creating three small spaces for Say It With Flowers, Katie Mitchell's attempt to stage some of the works of Gertrude Stein. I wasn't familiar with the American modernist writer, but evidently she experimented with prose, poetry and plays, and the snippets seen here show a stream-of-consciousness style that fixates on repetition, particularly in the opening scene which sees a family sit around the dinner table getting into the finer points of language, the shifting and multiple meanings of words, and their malleability. For the second scene the audience are led into a darkened clearing in a forest, where identity seems to be an issue, Sarah Malin's character seemingly unsure which of two people she is, then believing herself bitten by a snake but unable to find any useful advice to deal with it.

The final section takes us to a dingy room, stains on the walls and paint crumbling off the doors, where the titular "Say It With Flowers" is a playlet, deconstructed here into a piece of absurdist theatre where two families interact over grey mince pies and illicit affairs, all the time awaiting the arrival of a French King.


Mitchell highlights issues of sexuality and gender identity in the work (Stein was in the gays) both with same-sex affairs in the final piece, and a couple of instances of cross-gender casting - including Sean Jackson in the opening section as the father, dressed in a conservative business suit but with enormous breasts under his shirt. The cast is completed by Laura Harling, Peter Hobday and Sarah Northgraves, and all do a good job of getting their tongues round Stein's stream of consciousness and finding a poetic rhythm to it.


Like much of Mitchell's work, Say It With Flowers is frustrating, a mix of moments of real spark and dull, indulgent sections. It succeeds in immersing the audience in the world of Stein's idiosyncratic writing style for an hour, but not in illuminating it or, in my case at least, piquing the interest in finding out more about it.

Say It With Flowers by Gertrude Stein is booking until the 4th of May at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.

Running time: 1 hour straight through.

1 comment:

  1. Quite a close-minded conclusion...

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