Writer: Zinnie Harris
Director: Rosa Crompton
Producer: Abbie Dawson
Venue: Drama Barn
Rating: 4 Stars
Abbie Dawson and Rosa Crompton have successfully compressed Zinnie Harris’s three-act play, into forty-five minutes of intense discomfort. This play may not bring about the Friday night feeling, but it is incredibly well-thought out and both actors meet the challenge which their roles present with a near-perfect balance of subtlety and exuberance.
The play exists solely within the walls of a childless couple’s kitchen in which Mac, played by Edd Riley, and Jane, played by Lily Cooper, conduct their marital life through a series of tearful arguments and unspoken truths. It is a painful irony that although the couple are so often within close proximity of each other, mutual eye-contact is persistently avoided and in reality both characters have isolated themselves from one another. The image of the tearful Jane, sitting alone on the stage, which greets the audience as they walk in, captures at once her loneliness. Lily Cooper uses fantastic small hand movements to portray her character’s high levels of anxiety, whilst Edd’s body movements enable him to become the masculine defensive wall which Mac represents. What is most crucial is that through these different styles the vulnerability of both characters is represented clearly, without being too overstated.
The Garden is not so much about the characters on stage but about the other lives (which are notably absent). When a small weed begins to grow below the lino flooring tiles, the couple are forced to recognise the stagnation of their childless marriage and their denial of former issues in their relationship, which they had hoped they had overcome. It is the confrontation with this new life which causes them to re-examine and reassess their shared existence: a process which is interrupted frequently, with uncomfortable interjections of dark humour.
The stage design of this play is brilliant. A square of lino flooring covers the entire set, and with the tiles coming less than a foot away from the toes of the people sitting in the front row, much of the discomfort comes from feeling part of this strained and exhausted relationship. We are sitting in the kitchen with Jane as she waits at home for her career-consumed husband before we share the same Mac’s viewpoint, as he looks down, despairingly, on his mentally unstable wife while she attempts to revive a small weed.
The only issue with this play was the control of tension. Both actors portrayed such a strained relationship within the first few minutes of the play, that it was difficult for them to build to a really dramatic climax. Yes, The Garden as a whole was very powerful, but the increase in tension levels could have been emphasised by a few lighter moments within the play. Background music in the earlier scenes could have numbed the raw feeling for the greater good of the finale. It is not until the final few minutes, that we begin to see the lighter side of Jane and Mac’s relationship. This, I felt, was a shame, and a few more examples of this kind of atmosphere could have juxtaposed nicely and made the relationship a little more down to earth.
Overall, however, the play is extremely powerful and the majority of students who leave the drama barn after this 45 minute performance will probably feel that they would not have had the emotional stamina to remain seated for much longer!