Where the Flowers Grow [image KJ Taylor]
Very much a 21st century story, the Cumberbatch family are in the midst of a crisis that is one man's attempt to save his son from the refuge he has taken in online suicide sites following the suicide of a family friend after losing his job.
While Anthony skulks around the house he does so with little more than a vexed grunt to give to his parents. However, in the confines of his bedroom in front of his laptop, he morphs into an aggressive, animated, young man brazenly aiming threats to those in cyberspace who dare invade the sites that he has made his virtual stomping grounds. Unable to navigate relationships within the real world, Anthony has worryingly romanticised the act of suicide as a road to freedom, and possibly one that will earn him respect, something he now has for his father's deceased friend.
The portrayal of a young man who feels out of place and alienated within the real world yet is fully engaged, with bravado, online is performed with vigour and menace by Ashley Gerlach. Roderick Burrows's Vernon who has assumed an anonymous online identity in an attempt to save the son that he cannot communicate with in the flesh elicits the audience's empathy as a man also trying to be a good husband to his clinically depressed wife Vicky (Jodyanne Richardson). Norfolk's story telling is strong in its tackling of the timely issue of how technology has changed the dynamic of how we communicate with those nearest and dearest and how the internet has perhaps convinced us that the anonymous interactions we have online supersede these.
It is with the characters of Vernon and Anthony that this issue is best played out with the production's music and set's blue and red provocative lighting complementing Ashley's troubling monologues. This is a dark and sombre piece and the extent of the many issues faced by the family unfold as the play progresses, particularly Vicky's story. It is here that Norfolk has been too ambitious and the play has its weaknesses. In Vicky some strong issues come to the fore surrounding the catalyst of her depression that are sadly underdeveloped as is the character so the play finishes with a question mark hanging over her feelings towards both son and husband and she also sometimes feels like a spare part on the stage. In contrast, Vernon has some long monologues that occasionally teeter on the edge of boring. The play would benefit sufficiently if they were shortened. All in all, a good story well told and will make you reflect on how you interact online.
Where the Flowers Grow is at the Warehouse Theatre until June 26, 2011