Summerhall is a really rather wonderful venue. It’s elegant and practical, and just out of the way enough to find a seat in the beer garden. I’ve headed out of the cacophony of central Edinburgh for an eagerly anticipated show; I Gave Him An Orchid by Sarah Calver.
Inspired by the true story of Sarah Henley, a woman driven to an attempted suicide by the loss of her love, Orchid presents a very unique reflection of what happens to your insides when you’re stripped of love too soon. Calver combines Henley’s story with another, maybe many others, maybe her own; all I can say with certainty is that the play’s an intricately woven web of stories and emotional outpourings that work well together.
Structurally, the play is a hybrid of poetic direct address, clowning and physical theatre; jumping between the absurd, the violent and the sorrowful.
I was wondering whether I might feel a little left behind by this play; a one women show about a broken heart has the potential to alienate; but Orchid succeeds at being universal and engaging for all .. and in no way ‘girly’ ..
“A heart is destroyed.”
This is not a soft play about lonely women – it couldn’t be further from that – this is a play about furious neurosis, feverish sexual desire, and the all-encompassing ego raging at those who have bruised it; it’s not a play about pathos. It feels as though Calver is mocking anyone, any artist, who presents the broken female heart as something shallow and helpless; inside Calver’s heart, and inside Henley’s, is a wolfish psychopath. It’s a joy to behold.
The play started with an array of limericks; some funny, others shocking and sexual, some depressing. Of all the poetic points in Orchid, the limericks were the least impactive; some were a little cringe-worthy, certain stanzas feeling crowbarred in just for the sake of the rhyme. This may have been intentional but, at the time, I drifted a touch. Nevertheless, they set the right mood for a play that proved to be animalistic and sensuous.
The rest of the poetry is often inspired. Calver has a masterful ability to paint pictures with her words; especially concerning the grotesque. There is one moment in particular where Calver describes a heart tormented by scavenging animals and pandemic diseases that really climbs up your spine. You can feel the potency in her writing; even if it’s not always realised on every line. Sometimes words fail her completely, and the beast is set loose from her lungs.
The elements of clowning and playful comedy help balance the otherwise disturbing account of neurotic craving and self-deprecation that comes spitting out of Calver’s text. Her jokes are funny and her timing is on point; we are often invited to laugh at The Wolf as she howls, which in some way provokes Calver to continue through the narrative. Her Wolf feeds on its own mocking.
The physical choreography brings another fascinating dimension alongside the bare teeth of the text. Besides a few satisfying cathartic breakdowns, the choreography mainly presents the sensation and spectacle of a falling body, often tortuous and slowed. Calver’s body is hypnotic, which falls in no small part to her fearless self-exposure and physical conditioning.
This is an interesting and entertaining exposé of an unspoken madness that inflicts us all at some point; the self-absorption and self-destruction of a humiliated and broken heart. I Gave Him an Orchid is dirty, it’s explicit, bold and rudely funny. It looks at modern relationships in a post-romantic world and through the eyes of a new and more honest and revealing kind of ‘Feminine’. Flight Of The Escales is a company who deserve our support and are worth watching out for as they develop.
Pop along to see it and satisfy the beast.
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