Sunflowers and Sheds
Gilly Baskeyfield and Dorothy Wood
M6 Theatre Company
The Lowry, Salford, and touring
M6 theatre company was founded in 1977 and based in Rochdale, is acknowledged as one of Britain's leading theatre companies. The aims of the company are to ignite the imagination, nurture the heart and challenge the mind of young theatre audiences. Sunflowers and Sheds at The Lowry Studio Two shows that the company easily meets those aims.
The play tells the story of how Frank, an elderly man, and Isabella, a young European woman, forge an unlikely friendship at their local allotment where they share neighbouring plots. They keep themselves to themselves to begin with and Frank is irritated by Isabella's youth and vitality and her rather loud cheerfulness. But, after an early misunderstanding over the gift of some eggs from Isabella's hens, the two form a strong alliance. Frank mends Isabella's bicycle and, after he breaks his glasses, she reads to him his postcards from his family who have emigrated to Australia. The two discover they have more in common than they realised as all their loved ones are far away.
The setting and scenery are well effected. There is a sturdy shed with Frank's plots for his vegetables set to the right of the stage. The left is dominated by the hen coop which Isabella erects and a realistic tree on whose branches she hangs various items. These include a glitter ball and some dolls which remind her of her family whom she misses.
There is a really good balance between stage activity to jaunty banjo music - specially composed by Tayo Akinbode - and dialogue between the two players.
There was much to engage the young people in the three-quarter full Lowry Studio Two space. Physical comedy with the puppet hens which the performers animate very effectively and comic misunderstandings and amusing reactions. Most of the young children were caught up into the story although some of the finer nuances of the characterisations may have been lost on them.
The props and, in particular, the root vegetables are beautifully crafted and there is a very clever stage picture where Isabella and Frank work together to harvest the crop which he shares with his new-found friend. There is also a pleasing contrast between Frank's rather dull plot and the colourful flowers which dominate Isabella's area.
Both Eve Robertson who plays Isabella and Luke Walker who plays Frank are M6 regulars. Walker is equally well known to Manchester audiences from his writing and acting work for 24:7 Theatre Festival. Both acquit themselves very well. They evoke much interest from the audience who enjoyed the contrast between the rather staid Frank and the feisty and rather brash young Isabella. There is a lovely moment when Frank, who is very old fashioned, waits for Isabella to sit before he does. Their comic timing is surest when Frank is trying to read his postcard while Isabella is hammering together her hen coop. This is a warm and touching tale about the power of friendship to change people's lives for the better as their relationship enables Frank to find the courage to visit his family in Australia.
The production was well paced by co-writer directors Gilly Baskeyfield and Dorothy Wood. The hour passed very pleasantly and as the glitter ball reflected its dazzle in the final lighting effect there were smiles of contentment on the faces of the children of all ages as they left the Studio.
Touring to Bath, Nottingham, Runcorn, Brighton, Bethnal Green and Birmingham
Reviewer: Andrew Edwards