Sub-primes by the bunch

The Just Price of Flowers

Birmingham Rep and Stan's Café

A E Harris Building, Birmingham

****

IF YOU'D never seen a tulip before, you'd want one too, wouldn't you?

The Just Price of Flowers shouldn't really be funny because it tells the tale of speculation and feverish tulipmania, which gripped 17th century Netherlands.

As the flower grew in popularity, vast sums of money were changing hands because people wanted this colourful exotic novelty so much. Nevertheless, this production, written and directed by James Yarker, is full of humour while cleverly drawing parallels with the recession in 2008.

Appropriately for these austere times, the play is presented in A E Harris' disused metal pressing factory.

Intrigued, delighted and excited by the beauty of their neighbour Van Eek's unusual flower, the Van Leasings are a couple who spot a hot opportunity to make a guilder or two.

Charlotte Gregory plays the wife who appears to be somewhat baffled by compound interest rates yet negotiates with Van Hire to borrow guilders for a portfolio of tulip bulbs. As he tends the assets, their doubting servant resists all encouragement to join his employers' feverish speculation in tulips.

WITTY LYRICS

Origami, accordion music and witty lyrics feature in this light-hearted 70-minute performance, which is strikingly staged in monochrome; the only splashes of colour are the paper tulips.

The story leads the audience through futures trading, credit ratings, sub-primes, credit default swaps, and short selling, through the eyes of financiers and bankers who are hedging everybody's bets.

Bernadette Russell wonderfully portrays the persuasive financier who almost loses everything, but ends up having cake and eating it. Meanwhile, Gerard Bell's calm, unruffled performance serves to remind us that financial markets depend on commodities – in this case flowers which have yet to bloom. VanDriver retains his faith in his pension fund and simply looks forward to peaceful retirement.

The cast morph into choristers singing of aspirations beyond basic human needs for water, food, shelter, family and friends. Inevitably, the bubble bursts and Jill Dowse's narration draws parallels with contemporary personal hardships, financial scandals and economic downturn.

Does anybody win? Bankers like Van Ish may have added to their wealth, but Van Eek reminds us of the inherent beauty of gardens.

A delightfully entertaining, but cautionary tale taught me more about complexities of economic downturn than I had expected. The portrayal of bankers and ordinary people who get caught up when the tulip bubble bursts is simultaneously amusing and thought-provoking. Well worth a visit!  To 30-06-12

Laura Ginesi 

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