By Fiona Leckerman
Playwright Diane Samuels’ latest offering commissioned by Watford Palace Theatre is Poppy and George, an unconventional love story set among the cloths of an East End costumier’s in 1919.
Poppy, a Northerner, has come down south in search of a job and finds more than a career she also finds herself.
Smith, the Jewish immigrant tailor, welcomes her into his business, where she trains alongside him and meets the chauffeur George and Tommy Johns a music hall artiste, who provides some light reverie.
The play is set within the costumier’s with hanging costumes overhead, a rail of clothes and a sewing machine; quite why there is constant cloud of smoke emanating from the wings is never explained. The use of smoke was also used with great meaning in the last staging of Samuels’s award winning play Kindertransport at the Richmond Theatre, but the reason for the effect is never referenced in Poppy and George and its inclusion seems purely stylistic.
Samuels does discuss important themes of equality and gender amid a changing world within a love story and the writing is strong, with threads of humour running throughout, but it lacks emotional connection to the characters – this despite the cast being very competent with some lovely moments, including addressing the audience directly, which is a nice touch.
Nadia Clifford’s Poppy is a resilient, but confused character and Rebecca Oldfield’s George becomes more convincing as the play progresses, however together there is an absence of chemistry, making their troubled romance less believable.
The pace and slow build leading to the big reveal was disappointingly unimaginative and neither shocking, nor poetic. The inclusion of Thomas John, played with accurate poise by Mark Rice-Oxley, was a welcome diversion, but other than his professional cross-dressing, his role in the play is unclear.
Would a performer practice in a costumier and would a costumier have a piano? The Thomas John sub-plot and character are compelling enough to fill a play on its own with his light-hearted, smutty songs leaving the audience wanting more.
Poppy and George has the potential to be a thoughtful play, but sadly this production falls short, perhaps it is too long, or perhaps its themes don’t marry with the way the story is told.
Poppy and George is playing at The Watford Palace Theatre until 27 Feburary.