Saturday, October 4, 2008

Born in The Gardens

I had the good fortune to return to Kingston's Rose Theatre, last night, to see Artistic Director Stephen Unwin's latest production, Born in the Gardens. It was a celebrity-packed (d'un certain √Ęge) event with Michael Aspel, David Jacobs and Director Emeritus, Sir Peter Hall, all keen to view playwright Peter Nichols revived four-hander.

In spite of the fact that the piece was written and set in 1979, it's very much alive-and-kicking, today. From the outset, the humour hits home as mother, Maud, talking with middle-aged son, Maurice, pats her curly 'do, telling us about her "aphrodisiac" hair.

Maud chats away, endlessly, with the silent characters (volume turned-off) on her tiny black-and-white TV; sharing the minutiae of her life with everyone who appears on- screen. All the while, her dead husband lies in his coffin - in the mock-Tudor sitting room they share - while Maurice (Mo) disappears to prepare the latest liquid concoction from their vast alcoholic archive. As they await the arrival of siblings Hedley and Queenie, for the funeral, we learn of Maud's penchant for 'last-minute' bulk-buying and the Tampax she stock-piles, in the freezer...

When the siblings join them, the depth of their dysfunction continues to unfold. Maud refuses to comprehend that Hedley is a Labour backbencher, firmly believing that it's a television subtitling error and that he's really a Tory. Queenie can't keep her hands, or lips, off her twin brother as she tries to lure him back to California with her. Hilarity ensues when Mo fixes Queenie's - vodka and consommé-based, Bullshot - post-funeral cocktail of choice. Maud is rapidly converted as she relishes her first taste and regales us with her enjoyment of the "Bullshit"!

Further punning gems lighten the darker undertones, as Hedley attempts to persuade Maud to move-into a new duplex, or a condo - according to Queenie. Unsurprisingly, we learn from Maud that she has no intention of moving-into "an abandoned condom" or an "empty, used durex"...

Stephanie Cole excels as mite-fixated Maud, Simon Shepherd embodies misunderstood Hedley; Allan Corduner and Miranda Foster perfectly portray painful, middle-aged twins, Maurice and Queenie. Powerful, hilarious and thought-provoking.

Stephen Unwin joined the cast, on-stage, after their first bows, to pay homage to Peter Nichols (seated in the front row) and to inspire, and implore, the enraptured (and captive!) audience to continue to support the nine-month old Rose - which receives no public funding. The production continues until the 11th October; I recommend you catch - and enjoy - it, while you can.

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