The premise of George Bearpark’s original piece The Knight Who Smells of Sunflowers was promising: the classic ‘play within a play’ set-up that goes horribly wrong, and some backstage drama between the fifteen-year-olds performing the show. Add in some comic interjections from separated parents in the audience, and you should have a couple of hours of good, fun theatre that everyone can relate to.
Unfortunately for the cast, this wasn’t the case. In a show encompassing twenty characters, the majority of whom have almost no distinct personality traits (and those who did were hideously dislikeable), it was a struggle to care about the trials and tribulations of their adolescent love lives. Given that this was the main drive of the plot, strung together with some painfully shoehorned-in in-jokes, the large majority of the show was a drag.
The cast themselves, however, did the best they could – for the most part. Both Danielle Garlick and Angharad Morgan (as best friends Katie and Jennifer) gave enjoyable, natural performances and picked up the pace whenever they entered the scene. Garlick’s smiley ‘bad’ acting within the drama exam was on a level above the rest, most of whom opted for stilted speech and stiff limbs. This was funny for the first few moments, but quickly wore thin – and wasn’t remotely believable as the sort of performance an entire GCSE class would give in an exam.
Amanda DeBruin, perfectly cast as Rory’s mother Christine, joined by Eleanor Joyce as her friend Margaret, worked together to give committed and at times hilarious performances. DeBruin showed a real range of emotion as her larger-than-life character, but was most enjoyable at her more vulnerable moments, especially in her final scene with Rory. The same cannot be said for Rory’s father Lucas (Kaustubh Sameer) who failed to give a performance with any hint of passion or believable emotion and whose side of the bickering quickly became tiresome – hitting a real low with exclamations of how angry he was… said in an entirely placid tone.
Some of the more interesting characters were, sadly, lost on those performing them: Camila Segal as feisty, foul-mouthed Emma ranged from uninteresting to torturously flat, and Benjamin Michels’ performance as teacher Marvin Hammond was tiresomely one-dimensional. On the contrary, credit must go to Jamie Martin and Robyn Fryer as stage-hands Montague and Maude, who were committed and energetic throughout – albeit to extremely irritating and superfluous characters.
It would be a real feat to pull off an original show with twenty well-developed characters, especially given the unexperienced cast and the short time constraints – so for the large majority of the cast it remains to be seen what they are really capable of. Sadly Sunflowers didn’t give them much of a fair chance.