The Chalk Garden
2 - 9 October 2021
The sterile milky substrate of the Sussex Downs plays host (and metaphor) for this ‘seemingly’ gentle study of aristocratic life, performed to critical acclaim on Broadway in 1955 and the West End in 1956 (directed by John Gielgud, no less). Yet, do not be fooled - Edith Bagnold’s witty and literary script turned heads and minds almost immediately: “I can’t quite remember… when I so resisted a first act only to wind up at the end of the third wishing there was a fourth.” declared Walter Kerr of the New York Herald, on its premiere. Despite being ‘of its time’ it continues to feel relevant through the endlessly fascinating and complicated themes of family relationships between women, viewed through the prism of class tensions, perceived impropriety, plus a dash of murderous intrigue for good measure.
Mrs St Maugham, former society hostess and selfish eccentric, reigns supreme in her country manor, aided by an unseen yet dominant Butler, a sensitive manservant (who served time for conscientious objection) and her troubled and aptly named granddaughter, Laurel. Laurel’s mother, Olivia, is ‘persona non grata’ having married again, beneath her, following the death of Laurel’s father. As she grows ever more complex, a companion for sixteen-year-old Laurel is sought - from an unsavoury selection of applicants - whereupon the cool, calm and somewhat mysterious Miss Madrigal is hired, despite a complete lack of references. Madrigal’s green fingered skills with the dastardly, un-nurturing chalk soil endear her to the keen yet hapless gardener in Mrs St Maugham, further masking her secret, criminal past. Cue a luncheon visit from an old friend: the Judge. Needless to say, one can cut the considerable tension - as well as the cold chicken salad - with a knife.
The joy of this play is its combination of sharp wit, deft dialogue and seemingly familiar dramatic tropes which lull one into a false sense of security as it slowly yet skilfully turns the tables. Bagnold, an adept and lyrical writer, described her interest in the ‘shape and shadows of life’; she reveals depths of emotional turmoil, in all their brutal honesty. Ultimately, the complexities uncovered in our key subjects, are highlighted and leavened with a lightness of touch, some great comic moments and the enduring promise of hope.
|Audition||Mon 16 August 2021||7:00pm||Foyer|