Emily Garside’s Don’t Send Flowers leaves me a little frustrated at the White Bear Theatre
“People don’t talk in waiting rooms”
Cake is indeed the answer to many a problem and in her play Don’t Send Flowers, running here at Kennington’s White Bear Theatre, Emily Garside suggests it might be one of the best ways to deal with a cancer diagnosis. And we meet her three characters in their therapist’s waiting room, she explores the different we are impacted by such news, whether directly or indirectly, and how those left behind have to carry on.
So there’s Joanne (Kathryn Haywood) who only has a few months left to live, Grace (Karen Barredo) whose own father is dying, and Joanne’s brother Louis (Kyle Matson) for whom therapy is helping him barely cope with the impending loss. And as we kick off with some bluntly awkward flirting, it’s actually a love triangle that emerges in the tangled emotional connections that grow between them all, fed naturally by copious amounts of cake.
Jess Frieze’s lo-fi production sits well in the intimate space and the detail of the design (uncredited in programme) intersects cleverly with the storytelling but something about the play rubbed me the wrong way. Inserts of direct address felt unnecessary and disruptive to the play’s rhythm, characterisation seemed chaotic (the aforementioned unwanted flirting seems to herald a misogyny that is then forgotten), thus those relationships often rang hollow.
Perhaps it was the woman next to me laughing just a little too far at every single dick joke, that rarely helps my mood if I’m on the fence. As an aside, I was intrigued to note that the lead character is now Joanne rather than John as it was in an earlier production, thus queering the play. Except it doesn’t really in any substantive way, which feels like both a good and a bad thing. Not all queer stories have to be about being queer per se and we should always celebrate characters who are allowed to just be. But equally, the lack of acknowledgement of it here feels awkward, especially given the familial closeness.