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Herald Scotland **** star review: The Garden

The Garden, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Neil Cooper


In a windowless high-rise built where the sun no longer shines, the entire world seems to be closing in on Jane and Mac, the listless couple at the centre of this short opera penned by real life partners, playwright Zinnie Harris and composer John Harris. The concrete landscape they've created for Jane and Mac is grey and empty, their lives barren of feeling as each struggles with their own private ennui.

When a small weed appears beneath the lino, having seemingly grown up through breeze-block like some Ballardian bean-stalk, it's flash of green suggests a life beyond the four walls for them both. When what turns out to be an apple tree keeps growing back, refusing to be pruned, its persistence awakens in Jane and Mac a desire which transcends beyond the numbness, even as they self-medicate their way to oblivion.

Commissioned and presented by the Aberdeen-based Sound festival of new music and adapted from Zinnie Harris' short play, this musical version begins with a low electronic hum that builds to a series of electric keyboard motifs underscoring Alan McHugh and Pauline Knowles's part-sung, part-spoken exchanges. There's an underlying sadness to the performances in Zinnie Harris's production, which takes urban alienation to its logically dystopian limit before taking a leap into more idyllic Ray Bradbury territory where the couple can breathe.

Knowles and McHugh play off each other beautifully, their voices plaintive, their expressions pained, their hopes ultimately dashed. At forty minutes, the Harris' story can stand alongside anything from the late twentieth century new wave of ecologically-inclined short-form science-fiction, even as it hints of fresh Edens to come

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