Theatre Republic with the Adelaide Festival Centre. Space Theatre. 14 Oct 2023
The Garden confirms Emily Steel as one of the significant, gripping, thought provoking theatrical writers for troubled times in Australia.
It is brilliantly comedic and deeply revelatory - uncomfortably so - of darker, seemingly ‘harmless’ attitudes bubbling beneath surface of a supposed inclusive, open-hearted society.
Surely an organic community garden is a place where all can gather to share their lives, improve the climate, provide healthy food, and is a safe, enjoyable hobby outlet.
Not so when social politics and the mechanics of reality clash with utopian ideals.
Reality versus utopia is signalled in Designer, Meg Wilsons’s delightful set. Lovely aesthetically pleasing plots thriving with greenery. But there are signs signifying possession. ‘Do not pick’ one reads. Sure it’s a warm heartedly sunny spot thanks to lighting designer Chris Petridis’ deft manipulation of golden hues, but there is a fence in construction also. Is that communal?
Adam (Rashidi Edward) pokes his head into the community garden Evelyn (Elizabeth Hay) volunteers at, to the point of it being like a career. Their initial encounter grounds their future relationship and the paradoxes Steele seeks to expose and explore.
Those ‘harmless’ unspoken racist attitudes guised as suspicion are instantly apparent.
Adam seeks belonging without judgement. But judgement he gets. Does he belong here? Can he abide by rules and costs of membership? Does he understand the principles of organic gardening?
Director Corey McMahon expertly fashions an uncomfortably playful relationship between Hay’s driven, frustrated, ambitious Evelyn and Edward’s calm, controlled, yet always under the microscope, Adam. Sometimes Adam scores a hit. Sometimes Evelyn. It is the audience who cringes deeply while simultaneously laughing out loud.
McMahon gets maximum output from the layers of symbolism in Steel’s writing such as garden of paradise, Adam and Eve(lyn), alongside darker deeper implications of Evelyn’s seemingly magnanimous yet manipulative use of Adam’s membership.
Without question The Garden is a brilliant. A very needed check-your-privilege moment in theatre.
When: 11 to 14 Oct
Where: Space Theatre