Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
Dream-like and disorienting, but at times magical
Cris Clare is young man recovering from a mysterious illness in Suffolk. He lives alone, but has access to a supportive local community, and spends his days playing board games with children, or humouring them at their seances with Ouija boards and Tarot cards, or enjoying drinks and conversations with other adults. He has a keen interest in local history and folklore, and his preoccupation with particular stories manifests in disturbed dreams and visions, which also spill into his waking moments, and impact his experience of life in Suffolk.
The Girl Green As Elderflower is a musical by Richard Davies adapted for the stage from a novel of the same name by Randolph Stow. It is an abstract and semi-fantastical work which seems to promise a strong story in the first half, but when it returns after the interval feels almost like a different play altogether. It is dream-like in its conception and construction, feeling real in the moment and having strong story-esque elements, in particular when exploring the 12th century folk stories of the Green Children and the Orford Merman (the "wild man"). These elements, however, do not converge on any real progress or resolution, and the sense of reality dissipates when the moment passes. While this feels to me like a disappointment and a missed opportunity, it is apparently a faithful interpretation of the original novel (based on what I've read about it - I have not read the novel itself).
The music is stunning, both in its composition and execution, and more than redeems the show. The performances, both lead roles and ensemble roles, are consistently polished. Billy Sloane convincingly carries the lead role of Cris, a good acting performance, but truly captivating when he sings. Chloe Bruer-Jones' performance as Amabel is another one that stands out. Alice Albon, however, truly steals the show in her character role as the "devil child", the mischievous sprite Malkin. Her character has powerfully possessed the play by the end of the first half, which creates a solid expectation of a very central role in the second half, but unfortunately her story has to share the space of the second half with other stories (some only introduced for the first time in the second half), which feels like a bit of a loss for the show. Of all the characters in the play, hers is by far the most engaging, easy to empathize with and feel invested in.
The show, set in the disturbed thoughts and dreams of an unwell man in the 1960s, has its share of confronting moments. It has references to and depictions of assault and violence, xenophobia and racism, among other things. The lack of a strong storyline can make these moments feel even more confronting because there isn't, strictly speaking, a "story requirement" for some of those elements to be included. Having said that, if this show is about the protagonist's experiences while disturbed, and his journey towards some sort of healing, then there is arguably a justification for those elements to be present, as much as anything else in the show, even if they're not the easiest to bear.
The Girl Green As Elderflower is a confusing and somewhat disorienting work (which runs longer than its advertised runtime of 90 minutes). But it's an experience I don't regret because of the several things it does well: the music of course (which I'd love to purchase a copy of and listen to again, if it were to be offered for sale), the strong performances, and the very interesting journey through Suffolk folklore.