Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Performed in Inverleith Allotments (with free mugs of tea and homemade scones), this play is the story of two sisters growing up, and digging their family allotment. This poetic but down to earth (sorry!) two-hander is comic, tragic and unique. Audiences will laugh, cry, and treasure this uniquely memorable piece.
Practical and protective Dora, the eldest, wants to grow vegetables, while romantic dreamer Maddy would rather grow flowers, but despite their differences they are as necessary to each other as ‘pine trees and fungus.’ The play is performed to a small audience on a working allotment belonging to director Kate Nelson, and was written especially for the space by Scottish writer Jules Horne.
The writing is carefully constructed, using thoughtfully chosen theatrical techniques. The script combines naturalistic dialogues between the sisters with narration and storytelling in which the actors address the audience, describing the characters in the third person, a combination which is theatrically and narratively effective. The characters are loveable, complicated and believable, and the language is a good balance of sad and funny. The text is subsumed into its setting and beautifully poetic but successfully avoids sentimentality. For example, Maddy’s eulogistic descriptions of the scents of the allotments, which could have been mawkish in the hands of a different writer, are comic and unpretentious, as she lovingly describes the mint reminding her of Colgate and the lavender of air freshener.
Nicola Jo Cully and Pauline Goldsmith portray the two sisters with depth and understanding. Despite Maddy and Dora’s constant bickering the actors bring out their underlying affection and mutual need in an understated and heart-wrenching way. They both have such expressive faces – Dora’s care for Maddy shines through Goldsmith’s eyes even when she is playing Dora at her most antagonistic, and the range of emotions that Cully plays without even speaking is an impressive feat of acting. Kate Nelson’s directing is thoughtful and restrained. As owner of the allotment, and originator of the idea to create a performance there, it would be unsurprising for her to lose the director’s detachment and create an overly sentimental and personal ode to gardening, but she doesn’t – she distances herself, directing with restraint, respect and courage. Being site-specific, much of the play comes from the natural design of the space, rather than vice versa, making the design and the text as symbiotic as Maddy and Dora. Extra touches, such as their costume of flowery dresses worn with wellies, enhance the aesthetic without detracting from the natural, functional setting.
Whilst consuming my tea and scone (homemade, with jam from allotment-grown blackcurrants) I read the notices on the Inverleith Allotments noticeboard. My eye was caught by the notice to the other allotment holders about the play, and the list of assurances it makes to them. It promises that Allotment is a quiet production with no sounds or effects that would be out of place or obtrusive in the allotments, that the audience’s seating will face into the plot and away from others, and that audience members will not have access to the rest of the allotments – or the composting toilet. I found this a rather touching extension of the symbiosis of Maddy and Dora in the play: that the gentle, respectful production fulfils its promises to its audience whilst staying true to its commitment to the other allotment holders. Neighbouring gardeners dug and weeded, undisturbed, as the audience in Dora and Maddy’s plot laughed, cried, and were moved by this charming production.
An original idea successfully rendered as a well-written, well performed, unique theatrical experience, I could not fault this production, and therefore award it an unmissable 5 stars.