James Saunders' absurd plays were once the talk of London town, him lauded with promising playwright awards and West End debuts galore before retiring quietly to write shows for the amateur Questors Theatre in Ealing and the Orange Tree, Richmond. Since their debuts, his shows have been underperformed, with him never quite placed on par with such absurdist numinaries as Ionesco and Beckett, although it's clear from this revival that his work is strongly influenced by both.

However, A Scent of Flowers (which notably starred a young Ian McKellan) doesn't quite have the brilliance of either of the above's work: the conceit that the lead, Zoe, is dead isn't quite as shocking as it could be. Then again, I'm sure it was particularly exciting and a bold step into something very new and exciting at the time, but it's a little bit old hat today: onstage characters that aren't real or alive is much more commonplace now than it was in the 60s.

And that's not the only old-fashioned element here: the 60s setting is adhered to in Matthew Parker's production, although there seem to be elements from the century before rather than the years thereafter as well. The whole thing feels cobwebbed and antiquated, with the lead character not the only thing that may have the whiff of decay around it. Actors move little, with lots of long scenes that could be condensed, and the funereal tone doesn't exactly lend itself to spritely or upbeat action.

Although lead Charlotte Blake does her very best to gust in like a breath of fresh air: her Zoe is bouncy and fun, and she's trying so hard to make the show bounce that it's even sadder when it slows. Too many performances, from the grunting workmen (Stefan Holland and Richard Reed) through the funeral director (Jamie Laird), the philandering uncle (Bryan Pilkington) and the grieving parents (Jodyanne Fletcher Richardson and John Sears), are delightfully well-pitched and very watchable but drag the pace down like bricks. The only other energetic performer, Sam Saunders, struggles heavily under this burden, making his performance a little too overwrought, screeching against Blake's natural energy.

The set and costume design is also on the overdone side, with swathes of fabric and heavy raises where space would have given more freedom for these characters to bounce off each other. Parker's production is almost too reverent, with far too much energy and time lavished on trying to put a play that may be a little past it's time on in its entireity.

Because that's the main crux here: without the shock factor of dead lead characters, sort-of incest, some quiet forceful sexuality and the hint of paedophilia, there's nothing to this play. None of the above would be out of place on most stages at the moment, so the elements that would have made it so noteworthy at the time are now almost passé and underwhelming.

This may be the reason Saunders is not so performed these days: his star waned, and his style went wanting. The Ionescos and Becketts survive because their absurdity reveals something striking about the human condition – this barely does. The production isn't without merit, nor the performances, but there's just not enough here to hold interest.

A Scent of Flowers, at Brockley JackChris Hislop reviews A Scent of Flowers at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre.3