With Say it with Flowers the new Hull Truck building really comes into its own. Its foyer, much more spacious than Spring Street, is flooded with imaginative flower displays and Pip Leckenby’s designs exploit the increased stage area to great effect. The back garden, complete with patio, hanging baskets, shed and pond, plus kitchen entrance and side gate, is accurate and stylish, reminiscent of much of her work for the Stephen Joseph Theatre in its use of telling details.
Oddly, despite the floral emphasis and the pre-publicity about the Village in Bloom competition, Jane Thornton’s play isn’t really about competitive gardeners, but about the balance between personal interests and human relationships – or how disparate types can live together without either boring each other to death or coming to blows.
At the beginning of the play the gulf between Stan and his wife Mavis is demonstrated by his refusal to join in the celebrations for her latest triumph as director of the local amateurs, the Parish Players. His interests extend no further than his garden fence: the vegetables in the greenhouse, the model boats in the shed. There is conflict present, but mainly of the comic grumpy old man variety, such as turning off the patio lights with Mavis’ friends still mid-champagne. The turning point comes when the Players are no longer welcome at the Parish Hall and turn to the Village in Bloom competition to satisfy their artistic urges – will Stan co-operate?
Jane Thornton’s script is pleasingly free of unlikely contrivances: even the Goth next door, dangerously close to unreality as a comic turn, gets some nicely surreal moments and is well played by Claire Eden. Though Mavis’ friends, Vera and Rich, have private lives that are just sketched in for mainly humorous effect, the marital problems of Stan and Mavis are seriously explored between the jokes, sometimes even with too much explanation of what each demands of life.
John Godber’s direction is typically brisk, clear and unfussy, as are the performances of Annie Sawle and Dicken Ashworth as the married couple, growing increasingly frustrated at each other’s inability to understand the attractions, respectively, of stage musicals and onion sets. James Hornsby has a nice line in relaxed camp as Rich, the erstwhile juvenile lead who, after failing to find Mr. Right, has settled for sharing his home with his cats Fred and Ginger. As Vera, caring for an agoraphobic husband (or is he just lazy?), Jacqueline Pilton is often amusing, but not consistently convincing.
Say it with Flowers is a pleasant entertainment as well as providing a well-balanced look at obsessions and relationships – and, even as someone who has never applauded a set in his life, it was good to see the new Truck stage put to such attractive use.