Gardening: For the Unfulfilled and Alienated

Thu 1st – Sun 25th August 2013

reviews

Natasha Hyman

at 20:28 on 7th Aug 2013

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Do not mistake this show for a workshop in gardening skills. This is an intense, personal production about one man’s new-found obsession with gardening. I step inside Owain (Richard Corgan)’s shed and am immediately overwhelmed by the intimate space Madeleine Girling has created; beautiful flowers spring from its corners, gardening manuals, mugs and photographs, all within touching distance. I feel I’m already inside Owain’s mind. I sit on a surprisingly comfortable flowerpot next to my one fellow audience member for a few moments, apprehensively, before Owain enters. Instead of feeling awkwardly close, Corgan immediately puts us at ease, potting seeds and conversing with us as if we’re old friends.

He tells us that he doesn’t care about his wife’s problems, and he comes to his shed to escape the world. The irony, of course, is that we are forced to engage with his problems, and in the most extreme manner - we can’t talk back, we can’t leave. At such close quarters to Owain, we become a crucial part of his story; We are in the world he has created, letting him lead us through his story, and we want to trust him. Without giving too much away, this device is later cleverly turned on it’s head...

It’s tiring, being in a tiny shed with only one other audience member. I felt obliged to keep eye contact with Corgan, and consciously avoided drifting off - something I, and I’m sure many other people, do regularly in the theatre. This was a surprisingly refreshing experience. In a time where it feels as if theatre is getting longer and longer, sprawling on until your last drip of concentration is squeezed from you, 'Gardening' works in a new way, asking you to engage for only half an hour, but completely and giving generously of yourself.

The story is about a middle-aged man, who turns to gardening as a way of asserting control over his life, and to give him the sense that he is nurturing and creating something. However, it gradually transpires that Owain is not as innocent as we thought, and the intimate, safe space becomes increasingly uncomfortable. As Owain reveals his secrets within a claustrophobic space, he is able to inflict a genuine sense of unease in the audience members. This is a brilliantly written piece which makes demands on our preconceptions of the theatre, posing a refreshing challenge for its audience members.

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Imogen O'Sullivan

at 09:52 on 8th Aug 2013

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As I’m ushered into a shed on the corner of Pleasance Grand, what strikes me most is that it really is a shed. A tiny shed with barely enough room for one. We squeeze ourselves into opposite corners by the door, and sit for a while, finally wondering if anyone is going to come. Hoping nobody will. Here, with my head resting against the splintered wood of the shed, breathing in the smell of damp soil, letting the mania of the Fringe pass by outside – I think I come closest to understanding what gardening means for Owain.

But someone does eventually come. A broad Welshman with an expressive face and engaging eyes squeezes in past the pots and lawnmower and starts planting seeds. I watch, utterly engrossed in the process. The shed act is entirely convincing. That is to say: it’s a real shed, and Owain is a real gardener. Notice I say ‘Owain’ here, and not ‘actor Richard Corgan’. That’s because Corgan is Owain, he inhabits him so flawlessly and seamlessly, and with such natural nuance of expression, that all sense of artifice is removed. We’re just three people chatting in a garden shed. Owain even leaves us sometimes, but we can still feel his presence as he moves around the outside of the shed, shaking and rattling it, and that’s how it feels inside as well – I have totally given myself up to Owain and his shed.

It is testimony to Brad Birch’s remarkable script that the extended monologue never feels awkward or stilted, it has a lilting quality of real speech that is particularly suited to Corgan’s Welsh twang. Birch’s writing is urgent and compelling, pulling you along as it unravels the story of one of ‘life’s almost men’, eager, not just to find out what Owain is hiding, but to find out about him. The secret to his garden is a bizarre and surreal plot twist that Corgan somehow manages to make understandable. The only moments of doubt about Owain start to creep in as he crouches by our feet, weighing a trowel thoughtfully in his hand, and looking up at us with the desperation of a man who’s never before found success in his life and will do anything to hold on to it.

When Owain finally left – rather abruptly – I wanted to ask him if I could stay. Stay in his shed, where nobody would bother me, and watch him plant seeds. Rarely do you find at the Fringe a place ‘just to be’. A place to be yourself. Or to be nothing. Hannah Bannister and Undeb Theatre have created a little oasis of peace at a frantic Fringe, and, though I think all the pots are taken now, I would recommend you all to visit Owain’s shed. Or, better yet, visit your own.

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