Woman of Flowers
What happens when you want a life different to one chosen for you? A story of desire, duty, deceit and revenge.
Blodeuwedd: flower face, woman made of the flowers of the forest, the bride created for a cursed man, transformed into an owl as punishment for falling in love withsomeone else and plottingtokillherhusband… I have been fascinated with the story of Blodeuwedd from the fourth branch of the Welsh medieval text The Mabinogion for years, and have explored elements of the story theatrically before (Perfect for Contact Theatre, directed by John McGrath and winner of M.E.N. best play of 2004). This ancient story invites constant reinterpretation with resonance for each new age, but this text departs widely from the original and only takes aspects as inspiration.
“…mesmerising… compelling and intriguing piece of theatre for our times….Kaite O’Reilly’s script sparkles with her trademark wit and use of evocative language… Sophie Stone has worked with Creative Sign Director Jean St Clair to turn Rose's written monologues into visual, physical and visceral language which truly sings like a caged bird.”
(Disability Arts Online, 2014)
“A myth with a twist..an exciting play that featured clever design choices, powerful performances and a creeping, unsettling sense of claustrophobia and fear. …[Sophie] Stone uses sign language to stunning effect…mesmerising.” (Remotegoat.com 2014)
Commissioned by Kirstie Davis for Forest Forge Theatre Company. National tour 2014.
Writer: Kaite O’Reilly
Director: Kirstie Davis
Designer: David Haworth
BSL Creative Consultant: Jean St Clair
Musical Director:Rebecca Applin
Lighting Designer: Dom Phillips
Choreographer: Junior Jones
Video Projection Designer: Kavi Briede
Assistant Stage Manager:Dave Hunter
Pete Ashmore – Graham
Tom Brownlee – Lewis
Sophie Stone – Rose
Andrew Wheaton – Gwynne
REVIEWS IN FULL
Disability Arts Online
'Sophie Stone is mesmerising' was the first thing I told a friend after seeing Forest Forge's brilliant production. Based on the story of Blodeuwedd, Woman of Flowers, from a branch of The Mabinogion, the production uses a range of'textures' - from sound, live music and video - which blend together to create a compelling and intriguing piece of theatre for our times.
At the epi-centre of all this is Kaite O' Reilly's script which sparkles with her trademark wit and use of evocative language which feels, although heightened, completely naturalistic within the setting of the isolated world of forest. Meant to be a safe haven for Rose (Stone), who cannot remember how she got here, we soon realise that all is not as it seems.
Can Rose really be made out of flowers as she has always been told? As an audience we are led to feel that in this world anything might just be possible. But is her captivity - with no access to news, visitors or a life of her own really for her own good and protection? We soon witness her daily life through a brilliantly choreographed sequence where she prepares food.
Alongside the written text, the production should be highly praised for it's use of theatrical sign language, which is present throughout the piece as Rose's 'secret language.' Sophie Stone has worked with Creative Sign Director Jean St Clair to turn Rose's written monologues into visual, physical and visceral language which truly sings like a caged bird. (Birds feature heavily throughout the production.)
Surtitles are provided throughout, but I was so captivated by the physicality that I soon abandoned the surtitles to give full attention to the emotional and secret world that Rose was letting us in on. The Farmer (played by Andrew Wheaton) looks on, emphasising that we are seeing a forbidden, illicit language.
Much credit must be given to director Kirstie Davis who keeps the cast onstage and omnipresent throughout, adding a great deal of tension. Plus, Pete Ashmore proves himself to be both an excellent actor and a fine violinist as his character seduces Rose whilst playing in a scene which makes you want to hold your breath due to its heat! Rebecca Aplin's music adds further layers to this complex world. Meanwhile, Tom Brownlee's Gwynne simmers with sexual frustration and anguish, making you both want to hate and pity him simultaneously.
Woman of Flowers perfectly shows a timid girl as she awakens to the possibilities of life. I was left quite exhausted but elated after 80 minutes of emotional ups and downs but with a renewed sense of value for my independence and freedom. I am convinced that it will do the same for you.
This wonderful production deserves more of an audience. It should be seen by everyone. Don't wait - do see this before it flies away! Oh and did I mention? 'Sophie Stone is mesmerising'
Written by Kaite O’Reilly, Woman of Flowers uses cross-art form to weave a tale of identity, rebirth and empowerment.
Based on a Welsh myth, the story follows Rose on her journey to self-discovery. Trapped in a controlled world of domestic tedium and psychological imprisonment, Rose’s understanding of her own life and origins is limited to the fanciful explanations drip-fed to her by an overbearing Gwynne (Andrew Wheaton), uncle to her husband (Tom Brownlee). A chance encounter in the forest with a wildlife writer (Pete Ashmore) leads to her gradual awakening to the possibilities of self-determination that lie just within her reach – but at what price?
Language and communication are the key themes that emerge throughout the play, with Rose (Sophie Stone, the first deaf actor to attend RADA) prevented from signing, barred from reading the papers or watching television, cowed into avoiding all interaction with outsiders as Gwynne and her husband Lewis struggle to keep her living in a state of fear and ignorance. Stone uses sign language to stunning effect, trailing off in the middle of her sentences to draw the audience into her own private world as she rejects the spoken word imposed on her by Gwynne to allow her emotions to be expressed through a combination of mesmerising signing and dance. This alternating between words and movement reflects the shadow between the said and the unsaid that holds the key to Rose’s past and future.
The choreography is beautifully executed, particularly in a scene featuring a synchronised ‘dance’ to reflect the household’s day-to-day minutia, and the closing scene in which Stone uses the subtlest of gestures to conjure up images of a woman walking along the road to rebirth.
This was an exciting play that featured clever design choices, powerful performances and a creeping, unsettling sense of claustrophobia and fear that permeated the action and successfully recreated the psychological repression inherent to domestic abuse. This aspect could have been more forcefully explored, however, as Rose’s uncle and husband may have been a touch too likeable for the full impact to be felt. A pivotal moment of violence is not quite violent enough – or at least lacks the elements required to demonstrate the significance and horror of the act.
The Fine Times Recorder
THE spaces in between the words we say and our thoughts are explored with poetic beauty in Woman Of Flowers, a powerful contemporary reworking of one of the ancient Celtic myths contained in the Welsh treasury known as The Mabinogion
Written by Kaite O’Reilly for the supremely versatile deaf actress Sophie Stone, Woman Of Flowers is at one level a story of duty, desire and revenge, but it operates at many different levels – who are we and where do we come from, how do we reconcile the apparent facts of our life with what we don’t know, what is a woman, what is love, what happens when you want a different life from the one chosen for you?
Rose cannot remember what came before the house at the edge of the isolated forest. Farmer Gwynne says he magicked her out of the flowers, and he doesn’t want her to know anything about the world outside. He has chosen her for his nephew Lewis, but Lewis is ignorant, little better than an animal himself. He has no imagination and he cares nothing of the world beyond the forest.
Rose plays her part, whatever Lewis wants, whatever Gwynne wants, she gathers the eggs and kills the chickens, she cooks, she scrubs their backs, she obeys Lewis’s demands, she takes off their dirty farm boots and cleans them.
She is a little more than a servant and she seems to accept her existence – but inside her head she asks questions, she sees things, she imagines another life, she questions who she is.
Using what is described as “theatricalised sign language” Sophie Stone communicates powerfully with the audience – she is by turns a bird, a flower, a beautiful woman, a witch …
Then a stranger comes to the forest. He shows Rose the birds and the trees, he tells her about the owls, he tells her the story of Athene Noctua, the little owl.
The production, directed by Kirstie Davis, Forest Forge’s artistic director, uses live music, dance and surtitles (for both the spoken and the signed dialogue and Rose’s thoughts).
The action revolves, indeed it dances, around Sophie Stone who is on stage for virtually the whole performance. She is a compelling performer and her choreographed movement takes us into her consciousness, into the heart of darkness of the forest and above the trees to the mysterious world of the owls.
Lewis is played by Tom Brownlee. Pete Ashmore is the violinist and plays Graham, the scientist who comes into the forest. Forest Forge regular Andrew Wheaton plays Gwynne, a man who hovers on a strange border between brutal and kind – what does he know about Rose’s background, is he protecting her or did he kidnap her as a child to be their slave?
As you leave the theatre or village hall, the poetic words and the beautiful images of Woman Of Flowers will stay with you.