Jafar Iqbal casts a critical eye on Big Loop Theatre Company’s latest production, Flours, a follow up to last year’s Flowers.
The five creatives that make up Big Loop Theatre Company have already made a mark on the Welsh arts scene. Heavily involved in the ever-improving Cardiff Fringe Festival, the young company has demonstrated a commitment to the future of theatre in this country. Their own creative input hasn’t stopped, though. Flours is their follow-up – and spiritual companion – to last year’s Flowers, both improvised pieces that explore the human condition with a stiff dose of absurdity and anarchy.
Predictably, Flours is set in a bakery, but this is very much where the predictability ends. What looks to be a farcical piece of physical comedy about two bakers quickly becomes an existentialist exploration of what it means to be a woman in contemporary society. Our two protagonists meander their way through topics such as the science behind conception, non-consensual sex and the pain of heartbreak, always with a wink and a nod to the audience.
And this is where the fundamental problem with Flours comes to the fore. Rather than focusing on specific ideas, the show tries to unpack as much as it possibly can in the running time. None of it gets time to breathe and, before the audience can digest what they’ve seen, the play has spun into an entirely different direction. In those moments where the humour is paramount, that frenetic pace works well. Kitty Hughes’ willingness to make a fool of herself is a particular highlight. When the tone shifts to a darker one, though, the tempo is very counter-productive, especially because those are arguably the best sequences of the play. Alice Downing’s character recounts an incident of sexual assault halfway through the play, and it’s the first time that the show genuinely packs a punch. She has several other moments like this but, again, that emotional resonance disappears quickly.
It’s a difficult to problem to solve, as the playful nature of Flours is both its strongpoint and its Achilles heel. When the chemistry between performers is as strong as it clearly is between Downing and Hughes, letting them play in the rehearsal room is the obvious decision to make. However, more should have been done by director Duncan Hallis to rein that all in to something more coherent. Without that coherency, it becomes easy to switch off at points during the show, despite so much going on.
There has been a marked improvement in Flours from last year’s Flowers, but this is still very much a work in progress. The play touches on some interesting subjects in a very offbeat way, in a style not seen often on Welsh stages, but they are merely touches. Big Loop bring a vibrancy to the arts scene in Wales not yet seen anywhere else, and they’re allowed to make shows like this that don’t quite get the job done. The foundations are there for something significant, though, and this project feels far from over. Third time’s a charm, as they say.
Jafar Iqbal is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.