Edinburgh Fringe 2012
A touching and darkly humorous play about two sisters and their allotment performed outdoors on a real allotment.
Allotment is a site-specific outdoor performance at the city’s Inverleith Allotments. On arrival audience members are greeted with cups of tea and homemade scones then led along a garden path to an empty allotment with a shed, which is set out with the benches around it.
The play centres around two sisters, Dora and Maddy, whose parents have left them an allotment. Dora is the oldest: overbearing, duty-bound and controlling, while the younger, Maddy, is impulsive, fun-loving and emotional. The audience sit around them as the two sisters – first as children, then as adults – play out their relationship through the medium of the garden.
It’s touching and humorous, but with some dark undertones. Allotment explores the way that sibling relationships formed in childhood fossilise and continue into adulthood. It also asks the serious question of how much we are complicit in letting someone else bully us into taking decisions against our own wishes.
The allotment setting is not just a gimmick, but an integral part of the play and it works very well. Although it’s in an open space, the benches around the small allotment make it seem cosy like a living room. It’s so intimate the audience feels part of the performance, almost complicit, even though there’s no actual audience participation.
As the only location is the allotment you learn very little of the sisters’ lives outside the space, which nicely reflects the relationship between the two, which is suffocating, co-dependent and excludes the outside world.
The garden setting works to produce some nice metaphors. The sisters’ personality differences are represented horticulturally in the play by their ongoing disagreement over whether to grow fruit or vegetables. They also bury toys in the allotment as children and find them later as adults, a physical act that symbolises the psychological issues that are buried and resurface in their relationship.
The space is used cleverly – especially considering it is flat and the audience is on the same level – to give a variety of movements and heights – from kneeling down digging to standing on top of the shed.
Actresses Nicola Jo Cully and Gowan Calder don’t look particularly like sisters but they do share a warmth that lets you ignore that detail. They both produce believable characters that you care about out of quite polarised emotional types and there is very strong acting in managing to portray the same person from child to middle age with no set or costume change (just the removal of a hairband symbolises the change from childhood to adulthood).
The script and characterisation is cleverly managed to leave some interesting ambiguity. To what extent is Dora just being selfish and how much does she believe she’s doing the best for Maddy? Is Maddy just a bit dreamy or is she is actually unable to take of herself? And is this because of a childhood accident for which Dora was responsible or is it just learned behaviour through a lifetime of being dominated by her older sister?
Allotment is a very clever play that on the surface seems as sweet and simple as the tea and scones that are served at the beginning, but unexpectedly digs up deeper emotional issues that leave you thinking. Definitely worth the trip out of the city centre.