During the 1630s, Holland was swept by a craze for tulips which inflated the price of their bulbs astronomically and eventually resulted in an economic crash. The Tulip Wars , a new play by Mark R Giesser based on a novel by Alexander Dumas, brings tulip mania into the 21st-century.
Leading the national obsession were Carolus Hoofdorn and Cornelia Vanderpol, a pair of rival biologists locked in a competition to engineer a perfect black tulip. Four hundred years later and Carolus and Cornelia live on, inhabiting the minds of their distant descendents, Audrey Braddock and Adrian Vanderpol, and badgering them to complete the impossible feat of genetic engineering. This rather convoluted set up is made surprisingly clear, both in the writing and in director Ray Shell’s staging. However, as the plot develops it becomes ever more fantastical. Audrey’s daughter is a CIA agent posing as a honey farmer, the local police are searching for WMDs in a greenhouse and a lab assistant is a part-time television chef who cooks only with GM food.
The ideas behind Giesser’s play are interesting and complex: the parallels between the speculative bubble of the last decade and tulip mania; the obsessive pursuit of perfection and the constant repetition of history. But unfortunately the execution is patchy. Dialogue is hard to follow and full of exposition and jargon, and although there are a few laughs, some of the jokes are just dire.
Donna King, playing Braddock, is classy and convincing but her performance sits uncomfortably with some horrendous gurning acting from some of her co-stars. This unbalance looks to me like the work of a director looking for laughs rather than cohesion.
The Tulip Wars is a quirky, ambitious piece of writing which, though never short of endeavour, ultimately loses the plot and the audience.