Robert Bolt was one of the 20th Century’s most successful playwrights. He first shot to fame in the 1960s with A Man for All Seasons before going on to write the Oscar winning screenplay and many other huge hits such as Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.
In its latest production the Finborough Theatre has revived early play Flowering Cherry an emotionally intelligent family drama set in the late 1950s. Jim Cherry (Liam McKenna) has worked for an insurance company for years, a job he can’t stand as he constantly day dreams about giving it all up to become a cider farmer. His wife Isobel (Catherine Kanter) has patiently indulged his day-dreaming whilst raising their two children Tom (James Musgrave) and Judy (Hannah Morrish) who are now adults but still live at home.
From the outset there are clearly tensions between them. Cherry is quickly revealed to be unintellectual and less intelligent than his long-suffering wife. He lies all the time, drinks too much and as the play progresses his life spirals out of control when he loses his job and sinks even further into his fantasy of buying an Orchard. Both Tom and Judy are disdainful of their father and embarrassed by his lack of culture. Loyal Isobel becomes increasingly frustrated by Cherry’s inability to change his behaviour and at the close of the first act asks herself if she can find the strength to leave him.
Bolt’s script is a finely wrought masterpiece, a perfect blend of astute social observation and nuanced emotional drama. The cast handle it brilliantly from McKenna’s Neanderthal bullying of his son to Kanter’s weary disappointment with her husband they all do well bringing this astonishing and original story to life. Morrish is sweetly pathetic as mooning Judy who, in a surprising modern twist considering it when it was written, is secretly in love with her friend Carol (Phoebe Sparrow). Musgrave is equally good as bookish Jim who also develops a crush on Carol dressing in foppish clothes to try and impress her. Sparrow is a perfectly sassy and cruel Carol who twists the family easily around her little finger, far too confident in her own attractiveness.
Kanter is the real star of the show however giving a powerfully controlled performance as long-suffering Isobel. Mckenna occasionally overacts but Kanter’s quiet poise balances their scenes and in general his performance is extremely moving as we watch Cherry carve out his own tragic fate through stupidity and stubbornness.
At the heart of this excellent story is a deep understanding of the complexities of human nature in all its selfishness. Cherry’s life is wasted because he squanders his potential, the play poignantly reminding us that it is our choices that make us what we are.