Based on Anne Fine’s book of the same name, The Tulip Touch is the story of an initially harmless, yet turned tempestuous, childhood friendship between ‘Natalie’ (Katie Dickson) and ‘Tulip’ (Laura Hounsom).
The action takes place in the girls’ school, homes and neighbourhood, with ‘Natalie’ narrating her friend’s gradual behavioural decline from shy child to aggressive teen. She also explores her own destructive dependence on her troubled friend, (whose ability to endow each lie with a characteristic embellishment is termed “the Tulip touch”).
Madeleine Teahan’s production, despite remaining quite true to the original text, seemed a little fragmented in terms of what it wished to portray, making the play initially quite difficult to get into. This was exaccerbated by the numerous (and lengthy) blackouts between scene changes, which meant that the play lacked fluidity and pace. Also the seemingly random inclusion of various songs, which, perhaps intended to animate otherwise static scene changes, didn’t quite fit with the mood, and therefore only rendered further confusion.
This is not to say, however, that the production did not have its strengths. Especially effective was Teahan’s manipulation of the versatile Playroom space, as well as the use of lighting and inventive blocking which sustained Natalie’s role as narrator throughout. The set, much like the stage itself, was minimalist, yet effective, with scene locations constantly metamorphosing. Furthermore, ensemble-based work – such as with the Christmas and playground scenes – managed to bring the stage to life and to vary the action. ‘Natalie’s’ continuous narration was sometimes put to good effect, such as when her description of ‘Tulip’s’ hardships were perversely juxtaposed against her family’s joyfully singing of ‘Away in a manger’.
The cast as a whole were generally quite strong, with many actors successfully doubling as several characters. Special mention, however, should go to Jonathan Andrews with his fantastically funny portrayal of ‘Mr. Scott Henderson’ serving to alleviate latterly tensions. Olivia Potts was also very well cast as ‘Emma’, ‘Natalie’s’ mother, whilst the two girls themselves, were most effective in stepping into character when interacting with older authority figures, such as ‘Natalie’s’ parents. Hounsom’s portrayal also seemed to strengthen throughout the play, as her character became more defined in her maliciousness.
Ultimately, I felt that the production was promising, although, at many points, the action dragged and ‘Natalie’s’ monologues lacked emotion. Practical aspects such as scene changes could have rendered the play more unified. It also needed to be more apparent what Teahan wanted to achieve as ‘Natalie’s’ concluding discourse on ‘Tulip’ still shrouds both the play and character in ambiguity, leaving the lessons that one should learn from her story largely unformed.