The Tulip Tree*** (Drayton Arms Theatre)

Posted: July 24, 2014 in Theatre

Enoch_Powell_6_Allan_WarrenThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews –

History has not been terribly kind to Enoch Powell. Half a century after he was prominent in British public life, if he is remembered at all, it is for his inflammatory “rivers of blood” speech, denouncing immigration. As the memory conjures up images of a dour, grey, humourless man, impassioned only by politics, it comes as a surprise to be told that, behind the stern exterior, there was a poet and a romantic. Oliver Michell’s 50 minute drama is previewing here prior to a run during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. It takes place in the early 1950s over a hunting weekend on the estate of Sir Patrick and Lady Kennedy. Powell, with a glittering academic and military career behind him and now an MP marked down as a future Prime Minister, is a guest. The snooty Lady Margaret (Sue Parker-Nutley) looks down on him as a “Grammar School boy”, but he is smitten by her daughter, Barbara (Sophie Gajewicz), who does not reciprocate and is destined to marry one of her own class. Alexander Shenton’s Powell is an uncomfortable outsider, talented at almost everything except the art of living. He claims: “my folly is unique, only the best minds can aspire to it”, acknowledging his own ineptitude, as exemplified when he presents Barbara with a gift of a book written in Greek and is bewildered by her look of disappointment. He comes across as a wet fish, preferring to read and write poetry rather than to join his contemporaries in less cerebral pursuits. The play suggests that Powell’s inability to connect fully with the real world led to him going on to make serious misjudgements in later life. However, the assertion which it makes that Barbara’s rejection of him was linked directly to his infamous speech is less than convincing. ! ! Well written and confidently performed, the play is quiet and reflective, the central metaphor, which relates to a threatened tree, giving it a melancholic Chekhovian feel. This in an interesting and worthwhile production.

Performance date: 23 July 2014

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