It is close to midnight in a quiet cafe, when a strange man presses his face to the glass, unnerving the woman who sits inside alone, sipping coffee and waiting for the next train. Her life is a procession of banalities, of the ordinary and never-ending trials of family life experienced at a pace which exasperates her. The stranger who she meets has found a new way to view the world, and is clinging desperately, vine-like, to its every detail. This is the setting for Poppy Burton-Morgan’s reimagining of The Man with a Flower in his Mouth, Luigi Pirandello’s one act reflection on mortality and the extraordinary nature of life.
Burton-Morgan has taken considerable liberties with Pirandello’s original, switching the gender of two of its characters and the sexuality of the protagonist. She has also erased the social and class distinctions, and Pirandello’s attack on bourgeois apathy. What remains is a more playful encounter, though fortunately Samuel Collings possesses the intensity and charisma to grasp the audience from his first moments, and with the aid of Burton-Morgan’s appropriately detailed direction, he gives a performance in which his slightest movement is filled with interest and import.
The choice of venue is inspired, with the audience seated in rows facing the door and windows to the outside world; the backdrop is a busy road and the soundtrack its stuttering rattle of traffic. Pirandello purists may balk at what this production misses, but with stunning performances and a setting which blends convincing immersion with a disjunctive theatricality, it’s an enthralling hour in New Cross.