Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Undeb Theatre, created in 2009, aim for the unconventional. Under the archway, near the Pleasance Grand, is a garden shed full of gardening tools, flower pots and bags of soil. Just two audience at a time share in Owain’s unfolding story of what makes his garden a success.
Gardening happens to Owain more by accident than design. He hasn’t really ever meant to garden, in fact he’s rather given up on the garden – if he could ever be said to have started on it in the first place. But one day he chances on a book in a drawer at work ‘Gardening: for the Unfulfilled and Alienated’ and life begins to change. He begins to garden – not that progress is entirely smooth and the book doesn’t always answer his questions but he does find that things are growing… and gradually the story becomes darker.
This production is a very immersive experience and the detail of the shed as well as the smells and the slight sense of claustrophobia all serve to remind one of how sterile so many performance spaces are. There are only two in the audience for any of the 30 minute shows that take place six times a day. There is a choice of the stool or the upturned flower pot by way of seating.
Owain joins us and talks to us, initially a little awkwardly then increasingly more directly, there is a sense that the character is gradually trusting us as confidantes. He tells us of life before finding the book and how the garden has changed. He draws us gradually into into his increasingly dark tale. At the same time he creates the world beyond the shed for us with a peek out of the window or a reference to his family or neighbour.
The play is written by Brad Birch, a graduate of the Royal Court’s Young Writers’ Programme, and performed by Richard Corgan. The writing is beautiful, lyrical and perfectly in tune with Corgan’s soft Welsh accent.
There is a gradual unfolding of the story with a delightful juxtaposition of the mundane, the everyday and the darker side of Owain’s gardening. The trajectory of the story mean that the potential end point emerges early but quirky nature of the tale means that we are never quite sure if it might take another turn and surprise us.
The play is well paced with Corgan managing the intimacy of the space and the closenes of his small audience with confidence. Being in a corner of the Pleasance courtyard complex means there is always external noise but this is well countered by Corgan’s sustained performance and the world he creates for us.
Madeleine Girling’s design is dolls house like with tremendous attention to detail. The slightly large garden chair felt a little out of place. I felt a shed like that would have had a chair that reflected Owain’s awkwardness, probably a cast off from somewhere in the house. But that is a small quibble, overall, the sensory experience of sitting in the shed was a delight.
Gardening: for the Unfulfilled and Alienated was completley absorbing, the 30 minutes passed in no time. This is one to experience as much as watch (if you can get a ticket!) and will stay with you for some time after you leave the shed.