Tag Archives: Alexandre Dumas

How to Build a Better Tulip

How to Build a Better Tulip


Upstairs at the Gatehouse

HOW TO BUILD A BETTER TULIP at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse


How to Build a Better Tulip

Only the performance by Beth Burrows holds the whole thing together


To set the theme for the evening, the song Tulips from Amsterdam provides the somewhat tongue-in-cheek auditorium entry music, followed by other songs evoking buttercups and roses. Perhaps there is no available pop song concerning petunias as that would have been the other relevant flowery reference for this amiable comedy written and directed by Mark R Giesser.

A minimalist drab-coloured set (Designer Mollie Cheek) predominantly represents a greenhouse at the University of South Holland (Lincolnshire) where plant genetics are being researched. Faded tulip designs on delft tiles give a hint of historic Dutchness. A broadsheet notice on the wall informs us that a monetary prize of ten thousand guilders should be awarded to any person who succeeds in the breeding of a perfect Black Tulip. And therein lies the basis of the plot, loosely based on Alexandre Dumas’s novel The Black Tulip, and making reference to the historical tulipomania of seventeenth century Holland.

Splashes of colour appear as university researcher Audrey Braddock (Jill Greenacre) in red corduroys and amanuensis Sheila Crouch (Bryony Tebbutt) with yellow bobblehat, frenetically enter. Tebbutt displays youthful exuberance in a deliberate and delightfully quirky manner. Greenacre’s speedy and breathy delivery means some dialogue is sadly lost in this opening scene. We are introduced to Braddock’s daughter Perci (Beth Burrows) whose latest boyfriend is petunia researcher Adrian Vanderpol (Christopher Killik) and then things turn strange. Alone in her room, Braddock begins to talk to a voice in her head – Carolus Hoofdorn (Richard Lynson) a seventeenth century Dutch tulip enthusiast. Vanderpol too communicates with the voice in his head – Cornelia Vanderpol (Tebbutt again). And when everyone appears on stage together, the two Dutch puritans are able to talk to each other too. Nice period costumes here (Giulia Scrimieri) for the historical Dutch, less convincing accents.

As it appears, Braddock and Vanderpol – driven by the two ghosts in their heads – are covertly endeavouring to create the elusive black tulip, espionage is undertaken, Perci is involved with the FBI and honey-research, Carolus sporadically breaks out into folksong, Cornelia inexplicably cannot abide the songs of Elvis, Vanderpol is arrested for environmental terrorism and tulip bulbs are identified as the next potential WMD. It’s all rather a muddle.

The character of Sergeant Ellsworth, managed stolidly enough by Lynson, sums up the difficulty of the play; he is given neither the insight of a probing detective nor the comedic possibilities of a bumbling village Plod. Only the performance by Beth Burrows holds the whole thing together. With energy and fine expression she appears to understand and believe in all the shenanigans and provides a central performance to savour.

Perci tells us at one point, “It all sounds more complicated than it needs to be” and I could almost hear the audience reply, “hear hear”.


Reviewed on 8th November 2022

by Phillip Money

Photography by Flavia Fraser-Cannon



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | June 2021


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The Three Musketeers – 3 Stars


The Three Musketeers

St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

Reviewed – 8th August 2018


“the rip-roaring finale in the church brought the audience to its feet in an explosion of cheers and applause”


This is Iris Theatre’s 10th season in the gardens of St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. They produce two shows over the course of the summer – a Shakespeare and a family show – and this year’s swashbuckling adventure from 17th century France is a perfect confection for a family night out in London on a summer’s evening. The action takes place in three different playing arenas in the gardens themselves, and also moves into the church. Although moving between locations couldn’t help but slow things down a bit, the delight of the different mise-en-scènes more than made up for it, and the rip-roaring finale in the church brought the audience to its feet in an explosion of cheers and applause.

Dumas’ original novel is a behemoth of a book, and credit must go to Daniel Winder, Iris Theatre’s Artistic Director, for distilling it into a largely comprehensible two hour play. The younger children in the audience would certainly have found elements of the story confusing, in particular differentiating between the the national conflict – England vs France – and the French religious conflict – Catholic vs Huguenot – but the pursuit of the Queen’s diamonds was a good thread for them to follow, with excellent visual cues to help them through the more labyrinthine plot developments. Paul-Ryan Carberry’s sure-handed direction steered a steady course throughout, using elements of slapstick and pantomime with a deft touch to balance the darker themes and more baroque plot twists. In addition, Winder’s decision to turn d’Artagnan into a woman worked brilliantly, and the young female musketeer was a fantastic counterpoint to the magnificently malevolent Milady, played with immense hauteur and brio by Ailsa Joy.

Working in the open air in the middle of Central London is immensely challenging for an actor, and the predominantly young cast attacked the task with relish, and they were aided too by Adam Welsh’s excellent sound design. Inevitably, many of the performances were painted with pretty broad strokes – open air theatre is rarely the place to go for subtlety and nuance – but there was a terrific ensemble spirit, and some excellent multi-role work too, particularly from the charismatic Stephan Boyce (Planchet/Treville/Rochefort/Lord Winter) and the splendidly entertaining Elliot Liburd (Porthos/King of France).

Finally, special mention must go to Roger Bartlett, the production’s fight director. No evening spent in the company of the musketeers would be complete without some serious sword play, and Iris Theatre did not disappoint in this regard. There is something rather wonderful about hearing the church clock striking and seeing the garden’s white roses glowing in the dusk, whilst watching a mighty clash of swords, and knowing that 21st century London nightlife continues all around. A unique treat; there to be savoured.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Nick Rutter


The Three Musketeers

St Paul’s Church until 2nd September



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