Stan's Cafe presents The Just Price of Flowers, at the A E Harris factory, Northwood Street
Stan’s Cafe may have been making a rod for their own backs in advertising their little pre-Christmas project as an “austerity production”.
Recycling an old set and costumes and featuring “locally-sourced” performers, The Just Price of Flowers was rehearsed in just six days. Who needs money, funding bodies might well ask themselves, when you can produce such fresh and stimulating theatre on a shoestring?
There is a nice irony in the fact that this self-imposed austerity, anticipating the end of a relative golden age of arts funding, is prompted by just the kind of bankers’ shenanigans the show explores.
Taking “Tulipmania” in 17th century Holland as a parallel with the current crisis, it takes 70 minutes and 21 short scenes to show how a smart investment – rare and exotic flowers from Turkey – are transformed by the mechanics of capitalism first into a bubble and finally a catastrophe in which the big players escape by the skin of their teeth and the little people are trampled under foot.
Even the servant who resists all temptations to dabble in bulbs becomes a victim when the pension into which he has doggedly paid turns out to be worthless.
From a company internationally famous for a show which consists of weighing out piles of rice, this is one of their most text-focused pieces – in fact, by any standards it’s a lot of words to have rehearsed inside a week.
James Yarker, author and artistic director, acknowledges the debt to Brecht, which is most obvious in the songs (lyrics by Craig Stephens, music by Brian Duffy) which bookend the show, and also in the titles which are displayed for each scene.
But if you think of Brecht as dry, here the formula comes with a generous coating of Stan’s Cafe’s trademark deadpan humour.
Brian Duffy also has an unusual credit for “origami”, the 17th century ruffs and the tulips themselves being elegantly made out of folded paper.
The Just Price of Flowers had just three initial performances at the weekend but it is surely too good not to be revived, hopefully at a time of year when temperatures are less challenging in this draughty disused factory.
Meanwhile a “major” Stan’s Cafe show (perhaps the last before austerity really kicks in?) is promised for the newly reopened MAC in May.