by Timberlake Wertenbaker.
Palace Theatre 20 Clarendon Road WD17 1JZ To 21 February 2015.
Mo-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 21 Feb 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01923 225671.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 February.
This play’s good.
Having taken on late 18th-century Australia and won in Our Country’s Good, playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker now investigates the same period’s fledgling USA. The bare boards of the stage match the virgin territory where Quakers go for freedom from old world persecution (in contrast to Country’s convicts chained to Australia).
Wertenbaker’s Choric prologue plays on the bare stage and audience imagination as does Shakespeare’s Henry V, but the battle here is a different type. And irony abounds.
Liberty is the watchword of the Americans, including Thomas Jefferson, drafting the new Constitution. But liberty’s always qualified. Both Wertenbaker’s acts open with a debate contrasting family safety with saving someone else’s life, and her sharp swift-moving first act closes with a startling demonstration of the link between liberty and killing.
The longer second act struggles to regain such momentum; themes and style are now both familiar. But, if what develops is less overtly startling, this act displays a fuller complexity. Jefferson is one of several characters seen who will become US President. But already he, so candidly keen to cultivate his garden, is learning how much harder it is to cultivate a nation. Wertenbaker nudges us with occasional anachronisms to think present about her view of America’s past, but it’s implicit too in reports of Jefferson’s struggles with Congress, and growing awareness of the compromises behind the ringing confidence of ‘his’ Declaration of Independence.
Today’s US President (mentioned by Wertenbaker) would recognise why Jefferson turned to vegetative horticulture. Jefferson, asked if he’ll defend liberty, gives a politician’s response “I will protect America and America stands for liberty”. Both act openings, and the first act’s sharp ending have shown what that can mean.
Like Abraham Lincoln later, Jefferson principally aimed to hold the country together, though his response answered different conditions. One main result, clear in this play, is the path that lead to Twelve Years a Slave.
Jefferson’s Garden bites off a mighty subject and digests its big apple with scarcely a flaw. Brigid Larmour directs with brisk, unsentimental sympathy, her cast matching thematic outlines with a firm sense of the individual characters.
Christian: David Burnett.
James: Burt Caesar.
Daniel/Mason/Perrault: Gregory Gudgeon.
Jefferson/Carl Christian: William Hope.
Susannah: Mimi Ndiweni.
Sally/Betty: Carlyss Peer.
Harry/Madison: Joseph Prowen.
Marth/Nelly Rose: Julia St John.
Louisa/Imogen/Patrick Henry: Anna Tierney.
DirectorL Brigid Larmour.
Designer: James Button.
Lighting: Prema Mehta.
Musical Director: Catherine Jayes.
Movement: Shona Morris.
Dialect coach: Helen Ashton.