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Review: The Garden

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THE GARDEN
A FLAT IN TRINITY QUAY Friday, 2 November 2012


Alan Cooper writes...

With environmental concerns hardly ever out of the news these days, The Garden, a collaboration between husband and wife team, librettist Zinnie Harris and composer John Harris, was very much up to date and full of contemporary import. The fact that the venue for this World Premiere performance was kept a secret until Fiona Robertson led us there added to the atmosphere. I was almost surprised not to find Michael Caine as Harry Palmer waiting for us at our destination. This was, as we had been told, a flat in Aberdeen’s Trinity Quay. I was amazed at how well a relatively large audience managed to fit into one room, albeit a large one in the flat without disturbing the performance. It was enlightening to experience the difference between the roles of the audience in this opera compared with the Sloan’s Project from the day before. Then, we were actually performers ourselves, taking the part of stage extras. For The Garden, we were in a sense invisible spectators. The extreme intimacy of the experience made it seem almost like a performance on television except that we were our own cameramen.

Mac played by Alan McHugh and Pauline Knowles as his wife Janet gave stunningly intense and natural dramatic performances. The music and spoken dialogue were inextricably woven together and thus presented a terrifying challenge for the performers who acquitted themselves brilliantly.

Mac was a scientist searching for solutions to life in a futuristic overpopulated world where green vegetation has become a rarity. One day they discover a bump in the lino of their floor which turns out to be a small plant. They uproot it to maintain the evenness of their floor. Later, when Janet is alone she finds a much bigger plant which she manages to identify as an apple tree. Instead of nurturing what in their world would be something of rare value she feels she has to destroy it too. Finally, the couple are driven to seek oblivion together in wine and pills.

The musical accompaniment to the opera was provided by composer John Harris himself on keyboard. This was done with amazing discretion and until the end, when the lights went up, I thought it could have been pre-recorded making things even more difficult for the cast. The extreme intimacy of the performance was something I will not soon forget and being a regular attendee at HMT pantos and enjoying Alan McHugh hamming it up there with great gusto, my admiration for his acting and musical abilities knows no bounds after witnessing his amazing skill in a quite different sort of performance.

© Alan Cooper 2012

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