Left – Andy Blaikie and Jo-Morris. Cover – George Gayler and Jo Morris. Photos – Kira Karavaytseva
She will wonder and wonder, with no answer possible, would her life have been remarkably different...”
The Mint Lawn, Gillian Mears
Time is a funny thing in the world of In the Garden, a new play by emerging Australian playwright Anna Houston. It is that kind of time that flies by, yet drags along. The kind of time experienced in small, insular towns, in which both everything and nothing changes on a daily basis. Time which results in a sort of inertia, from which its inhabitants struggle to escape; and escape they must, for the only other release is unthinkable…
Presented in this world premiere production by Hook in Eye Theatre Productions in association with Deckchair Theatre, In the Garden is a meandering new work which due to the very issue of timing unfortunately doesn’t quite manage to reach the evocative and emotional heights it tenderly reaches for.
The main protagonist of In the Garden is Violet (Jo Morris), a poetic soul who finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to her high-school English teacher, Pete (Andy Blaikie). It’s been thirteen years, and he still can’t seem to separate his wife, from the student he once taught. Then there’s Violet’s father Archie (Robert Hensley) and sister, Hannah (George Gayler), who are still recovering from the death of their mother Eva (Shirley Van Sanden). They are all stuck in the no-man’s land between past and present, between reality and memory; forgetting what it was they lived for in the first place. But like all families, it’s not something they talk about.
And into this quagmire of quiet uncertainly comes Jack (Nick Candy), an artistic free spirit from Violet’s past, who in the spirit of all tall, dark and handsome strangers is destined to try and turn her stagnant world upside down.
As the action flew between past and present the relationships between the characters were, for the most part, deftly captured. However the uncertainty and silences in the conversations leaned towards the long side, causing a drop in pacing and narrative drive. The thematic inertia seemed to leak into the performance style, which at times, made me long for something to happen. Conversely, when some of the bigger emotional moments or transitions finally did occur, they seemed fraught and rushed, which did not aid our absorption into the action and atmosphere. Moments of comedy, especially from Gayler, were welcome additions of relief and relaxation for the audience.
As Violet, Jo Morris was pleasantly naturalistic, seeming to ooze the sense of confusion and displacement from within. However, as I found the lack of drive in her character quite frustrating, I much preferred the energy and life she brought to the show whenever the younger ‘Violet’ appeared. Blaikie, Hensley and Gayler supported Morris well, and Candy brought great relatability and accessibility to the free-spirited man who captured her deprived attention. However Shirley Van Sanden was the standout for me as the dissolving Eva, who was unhappy long before it consumed her and her entire family.
The set design by Monique Wajon wonderfully supported Houston’s text, and the strong, naturalistic direction of Michelle Sowden. The ivy covered furniture was indicative of a world long forgotten or ignored in the swell of everyday life. Joe Liu’s evocative lighting design and Adam Trainer’s atmospheric sound design were also very strong contributions to the final product.
However, the setting of the drama in the 1980s and 1990s was only made apparent in the costume design and seemed an odd fit to me. Rather than enhancing the narrative and dramatic tension, the colourful costumes seemed to standout and pull you out of the action. The people sitting behind me certainly seemed to enjoy watching the parade of fashion faux pas, rather than paying much attention to the story. Overall, it jarred with the relatively naturalist setting and performances and as the issues and themes could be considered as being universal, rather than limited to a particular era, perhaps a non-contextual costume design would have better suited this production. The only time it really worked was as a transition sequence between the Violet of today, and the Violet of her youth.
This is for the most part a well-acted, strongly directed and designed show, but like Violet, by the time the lights faded, you wondered if maybe with a touch more life, time and drive, In the Garden could have been remarkably different as well…
Hook in Eye Theatre Productions presents
IN THE GARDEN
by Anna Houston
In association with Deckchair Theatre’s Umbrella Program
Director Michelle Sowden
Venue: Victoria Hall, 179 High Street Fremantle
Dates: 16 – 30 July, 2011
Times: Wed – Sat 8pm, Tues 6:30pm, matinees Thurs 28th 11am & Sat 30th @ 2pm
Tickets: $15 – $30
Bookings: www.deckchairtheatre.com.au | 1300 31 41 51