Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Frank’s getting on a bit. He’s been having trouble looking after himself lately, missing meals and not getting out much… not since his wife passed away. So, reluctantly, he’s agreed to go into a retirement home. It’s a really nice place, with really nice people, but Frank misses working outside in the garden so he has decided to start a gardening appreciation society for the residents of Pineview.
We are ushered down stairs into a basement room at Summerhall to take our places in a circle of chairs. For the inaugural meeting of AGAS, the Amateur Gardening Appreciation Society, led by Frank (Crawford Logan) one of our fellow residents at Pinegrove View. Over the next hour Frank rambles gently through the finer points of soil, and a range of personal anecdotes. Eilidh (Nicola Roy), the care assistant, pops in from time to time to make sure everything’s all right.
The Gardener is inspired by Karel Capek’s novella The Gardener’s Year, and the text was developed in part from verbatim conversations, developed through workshops run by Cumbernauld Theatre, with original material by Ed Robson. Frank is a widower who loved his garden and the years he shared it with his wife Joan.
Crawford Logan manages to appear a little forgetful whilst delivering a beautifully crafted script that tells a story of love and loss via the metaphor of gardening. His mastery of the script and the way that the story is punctuated by Eilidh’s appearances with tablets or to check all is well, maintain the pace and avoid the piece rambling or losing impetus. Logan balances authority as he delivers Frank’s planned talk with the informal gossipy nature of an elderly man talking fondly of his late wife.
Nicola Ray as Eilidh, the care assistant exudes the kind of warmth and humour we all hope we will meet should we ever move into Pineview. Popping in with Frank’s tablets and attempting to mediate in a request to turn the television off in a neighbouring room ‘it never goes off, I don’t think anyone knows how to turn it off’ serve to remind us that communal living involves compromises. Her performance has a real spark to it as she addresses us as Frank’s fellow residents – one is reminded that she may only have one biscuit with her tea, ‘your diabetes…’
Being served tea was delightful and added to the sense of place but did affect the pace. Having said that it enabled Frank to add a few more thoughts that wouldn’t have otherwise fitted the story – his irritation at younger people who think anyone over 65 must have fought in the war and want to listen to Vera Lynn (several in the audience nodded at that point). He’s secretly hoping Mick Jagger might be checking into Pineview.
It is a warm, eloquent, moving piece and particularly strong for being delivered by a man – whose expectation was that it would be him who went first, that he wasn’t really prepared to be the one left behind.
The ending is poignant and holds a surprise as we leave, do catch it before the festival ends if you can.