Tuesday 29 June 2010

flowers on stage: the poppy

In the first of the summer series of blogs about flowers on stage, Frances Babbage writes about poppies.

The flowers were scarlet poppies and they burst through the wall. In 1997, the Lecoq-trained theatre company Bouge-de-là presented Under Glass.

Its young woman protagonist lives a closed existence in a cramped bedsit, selecting each day the same clothes, in the same order; her ritualized sequence of actions structures each day predictably, protecting any her from all outside influence. Yet on one wall of her attic room is a poster of an Alpine field, studded with flowers.

An unvoiced and largely repressed fantasy of Switzerland and what this appears to represent is stirred into life when a young Swiss man, a neighbour, meets and fleetingly befriends her before leaving again, to return to his native country or travel elsewhere.

The audience recognises, as he does not, the consequences of his actions for this vulnerable woman: better perhaps that he had never come at all.

In the performance's final moments, she is left alone, again, in the small, drab room - even more alone, because abandoned. She leans against the wall, unspeaking: the damage done seems irreparable.

Then utterly without warning, flowers push their way through the wall. The dirty, fading wallpaper becomes an Alpine meadow, and pressed against it she appear to us to lie amongst poppies: maybe sleeping; maybe dying. She will never leave her little room; she will not travel to the places she dreams about. But in this moment she is transported there, and at the same time the pure fresh air and open fields burst in here. Living flowers, poppies, pushing in through peeling paper, connect two worlds: poetically, the image layers fresh against stale; movement against stasis; death against life.

This woman will not trust someone else another time. She will retreat still further. Perhaps she will die. But as she breathes in the scent of flowers, we can believe that something has changed for her in a way worth the anguish that comes with it.

Dr Frances Babbage is convenor of the MA in Theatre & Performance at Sheffield University. Her first book was Augusto Boal (Routledge, 2004).

photo: Al Cane


  1. I'm always fascinated by how performances live on in people's memories and seem to be able to seed and grow.

    Reading this something of the performance comes alive in my memory in a way that it didn't live before. But I don't mean something like: "that's not how I remember it" but more: "I don't remember seeing it quite like that before". Everything you say here feels right, it resonates with my corporeal sense of the event, yet it also deepens and changes my interpretations.

    Reading this account, thirteen years on, it's as though something living that belonged to the performance bursts through the peeling paper of my memories and interpretations. And I engage with the performance as a different person from the one who watched it in 1997. Thank you

    And that's how the cover of Jacques Lecoq and the British Theatre should have looked -- full colour. But the photo credit should be Al Cane rather than Aurelien, I think

  2. Thank you, Franc, for correcting me on the photographer of Under Glass. I found the photograph here: http://homepage.mac.com/aureliankoch/portfolio/PhotoAlbum16.html, and mistakenly identified Aurelian Koch as the photographer. Apologies to Al Cane who is credited as the photographer for the image in black-and-white which is on the cover of Jacques Lecoq and the British Theatre.