Flowering Cherry Blossoms at the Finborough Theatre

Robert Bolt's long lost masterpiece is done with style, says Penny Flood

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The revival of a play by Robert Bolt, the man who wrote the amazing Man For All Seasons together with the screenplay for many films including Dr Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, is something to get excited about, and this  production of Flowering Cherry (its first London showing  for more than 50 years) doesn't disappoint.

Written and set in 1957, it's the story of Jim Cherry (Liam McKenna) an insurance salesman who dreams of owning an orchard and selling apples.  But he's an inadequate fantasist and the orchard is just a dream,  a dream that's destroying him and everyone around him. Now things are spinning out of control,  stark reality is setting in and Jim has nowhere to run.

But this is not so much a story of a man tearing his family apart with his boasting , bullying, lies and drinking,  it's more about  a woman  battling against the odds to hold it together.  Catherine Kanter  is  Jim's wife Isabel, the long suffering rock they all rely on but nobody seems to notice that that strain is telling on her too.

Jim and Isabel have two teenage children;  the  artistic,  poetry reading son Tom (James Musgrave) who is waiting for his call up papers, and sexually confused, wannabe fashionista daughter Judy (Hannah Morrish). Both have their own  set  of teenage problems none of which are helped by their father's behaviour.

Added to the mix are Judy's friend Carol (Phoebe Sparrow), trying out her  teenage charms on any man (or woman) who comes into her orbit,  and  David Bowman (Ashley Cook),  the lovely apple salesman with a twinkle in his eye who discovers a better reason for visiting the household than just selling apples.

It's an emotional rollercoaster tightly directed by  Benjamin Whitrow who pops up in a cameo role as the bumbling colleague Gilbert who sees through Jim's self delusion and lets slip in a series of mischievous  indiscretions.

Through it all Isabel struggles to stay strong, although when she discovers that  money has been  stolen  from her purse she is pushed to her limit.

There are funny moments but they're bitter sweet as Jim tells the story, ad nauseum,  of a man he knew who could bend a steel poker with his bare hands.  Eventually it becomes Jim's story, in his mind he's the one who can perform the trick, especially when he tries to impress Carol,  but just believing  in something doesn't make it come true, a lesson that Jim has been a long time learning.

It's great stuff and a chance to see a rarely performed masterpiece done with style.

Flowering Cherry continues at the Finborough Theatre until December 20. Visit the web site to find out more and book tickets online or call the box office on 0844 847 1652.

November 26, 2015