by Jules Horne.
Nutshell Theatre Tour to 2 November 2013.
Runs: c1hr No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 September at Osney Mead Allotments Oxford.
Fruitful drama from Nutshell.
Well may Scotland’s Nutshell Theatre brave the British summer with this open-air hour; they were the company who had a notable success some years back with their version of John Heywood’s late medieval Play of the Wather.
Now writer Jules Horne supplies them with a tale of sibling contrast, if not rivalry. Dora certainly wants to be top sister, her teasing and borderline bullying leading to gentler, sunnier Maddy toppling off the roof of their allotment shed. The fall turns innocence into simplicity, and leaves Maddy haunted by the domineering Dora when they’ve become adults, and as she stands helplessly by when her sister has a fatal stroke.
There are memorable images, such as Dora creeping up behind Maddy, holding the gentler sister’s teddy bear between the blades of shears. That haunts Maddy, recurring after Dora’s death in her confusion of memory and guilt.
A point’s made when Maddy, left alone, tells her dead sister she’s going to grow the flowers so far denied in her life. They may prove more helpful than the alcohol to which she’d taken earlier, a present from the teacher whose pupils she’s shown round the allotment, to Dora’s displeasure.
Kate Nelson’s production uses the grassy corner of Osney Meads allotments skilfully – we are sedately seated, rather than crouched among the cauliflower or brushing up against the broccoli.
It’s beautifully performed, the contrast quietly established not only in Maddy’s flowing dress and Dora’s more severe gardening outfit, but as they distribute tea and (the director’s) scones to the audience before the show. Nicola Jo Cully’s Maddy lives amid a lightness, all smiles and movement, ever-optimistic, while Gowan Calder gives Dora a sense of organisation, logic and solidity; a touch of cruelty seems necessary for her to find humour.
Calder also shows how (without the discontinuity created in Maddy’s life by her accident) childhood’s open domination develops into an adult system of establishing power by manipulation of a more receptive mind.
Maddy’s eventual freedom grows organically as she’s finally able to find her dead sister, through her clothes, a suitable place in this fascinating Allotment.
Maddy: Nicola Jo Cully.
Dora: Gowan Calder.
Director: Kate Nelson.
Designer: Sarah Paulley.
Assistant director: Kate Bond.