Theatre review: The Garden

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The Garden Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh *****

WE ARE sitting in a pretty courtyard just off the High Street; in front of us is some garden furniture - a small table, and four chairs. Across the table, a middle-aged couple called Anna and William snipe and nag at each other. Their only son, Alex has left home. His doting mother pines, and waits for a promised visit; his father resentfully dismisses him as a slob and a layabout.

Then at the height of the argument, a strange, pale-faced boy in a suit appears at the garden gate, saying that he once lived in the house, and a strange conversation follows, in which the boy, James, never answers a direct question, but slowly finds his way first into Anna's heart, then into William's.

This is the powerful opening sequence of Alistair Rutherford's The Garden, a major success at the recent Leith Festival, and now heading off on tour in England. If the play has a problem, it lies in the lack of an ending that matches the rare dramatic force of the opening: it lacks a third act that would make more sense of James's uncanny appearance, his ghost-like intuitions, the otherworldly quality of Philip Kingscott's performance.

But in every other way this is a strong, compelling 55-minute family drama, beautifully performed by Kirsten Maguire as Anna, Adam Tomkins as William, and Martin Haddow and Philip Kingscott as the two boys. Its theme is the binding power of parental love and the way it can destroy marriages, and all but destroy the children at whom it is directed, if parents never learn to let go.

Yet in Kirsten Maguire's pretty, haunted face, we can see the full measure of the sacrifice entailed in that commonplace piece of wisdom, and the temptation to cling to the child who never grows up, rather than to forge a new relationship with the one who does.