A dark evening in a small café in New Cross. A woman reads at a table. A waitress dries mugs behind the counter. A bearded man appears outside the window wearing a bowler hat and a red velvet smoking jacket, and starts to behave strangely, climbing on the chairs and accosting passers-by, who try to avoid making eye contact. Then he opens the café door and comes in.
Metta Theatre’s production of Luigi Pirandello’s ‘The Man with the Flower in his Mouth’, is staged by the Greenwich Theatre in a café near New Cross station. The setting is inspired, blending theatre with everyday New Cross life in a disconcerting mix. The play, one of the first shown on British television, is a brief encounter between a man with a feverish imagination and a burning desire to live and a woman, burdened with parcels and troubles, killing time after missing the last train.
For reasons which gradually emerge, the unnamed Man is living his life with a fiery intensity, marvelling at details such as the beauty of department store parcels, and revelling in the pleasures of his imagination. But his love of life is inextricably linked with death. He sees people all around ignoring death riding on their backs, distracted by petty irritations, and missing out on living. “I’d kill myself”, he says, “but the plums are just ripening”. Is he right? Can life really be lived with complete commitment, or is that just a form of madness?
Behind him, other theatre plays out – the café waitress, bored behind the coffee machine; people staring through the window from the street outside. The Man walks into the cold night and The Traveller picks up a small plastic duck, a memento mori left by The Man. She hesitates, then drops it again and leaves the café without a word, closing the door on a very different existence.
Samuel Collings effectively combines pent-up passion and physical humour as The Man, while Liana Weafer holds it all in as the hide-bound Traveller. Poppy Burton-Morgan directs and adapts, switching the male stranger in the original for a woman. Her version sensibly avoids completely modernisation, and creates a strong sense of unreality which lingers after the characters leave the café. This searching play is a fine way to spend an hour, and the imaginative staging shows how much the London fringe has to gain from leaving the theatre bubble and invading new spaces.
By Tom Bolton
The Man with the Flower in his Mouth is at the London Particular Café, 399 New Cross Road, with two performances per evening from Weds-Sun until 5 December, tickets £10.