Around the time of the interval of Flora the Red Menace I started to think it might be a bit unfair to send a Marxist Feminist to review a production about a young woman who falls in love with a fairly ineffectual Communist, joining the party largely to impress him. There’s a big scene where the heroine, Flora, sings and dances her way through a comparison of Valentine’s day (for her) and a Communist rally (for him) as vehicles for passion, which comes at the end of a bit-too-long first half, and had me feeling a bit dubious about the production’s socio-political agendas.
However, the second half completely turned around my doubts that this was some kind of trivializing and sexist morality play, performing a timeously desperate, everyone-loses all singing all dancing spectacular through to the finish. Flora the Red Menace is set in America during the Great Depression. The musical at the austerity-sized Landor is prefaced by the announcement that there will be nine actors performing the cast of twenty-five. The show opens with a pathetic plea (‘Mister, just give me a job’) and follows Fashion Illustration valedictorian, Flora, through the fraught adventures of trying to survive love, life and rent paying through the Depression. Seeing its first professional production in London in seventeen years, Flora is, of course, painfully resonant today, and this rawness pervades the show even through the cheerful tap dancing, lustful singing and striking comedic timing.
The Landor is an extremely intimate space, at times we had to make sure to cross our legs to avoid tripping up the cast members, and this closeness demands a very particular scrutiny of the production. Luckily, then, the performances were all unusually convincing. Katy Baker is effervescent in the role of Flora, giving a performance that is not only energetic, but also extremely sensitive – her singing and acting impressing in equal measure. Though Baker is standout spectacular, the rest of the cast excites too. I particularly enjoyed Ellen Verenieks as Charlotte, who teemed with sexual energy, ambition and a fair dose of evil manipulation. Greg Sheffield and Kimberley Moses also dazzle with their thoroughly enjoyable tap routines, which really rev up the show, particularly in the second half.
All in all Flora and the Red Menace is well worth seeing - a joy to watch even as it never slips into the purely cheerful.