Summerhall (Venue 26)
Perhaps you are resistant to sentimental plays about people getting old and losing a loved one. Perhaps you think it is too easy to substitute the common experience of grief for the emotion of a genuinely dramatic situation. But then a play as tautly written, as excellently acted and as sweetly staged as The Gardener comes along and, although modest in ambition, it defies your cynicism.
Performed to a small audience in a basement room in Summerhall, Tony Cownie’s production of a play inspired by Karel Capek’s novella The Gardener’s Year, helped into life by dramaturg Lynda Radley for Cumbernauld Theatre, turns us all into residents of an old people’s home. In nurse’s uniform, Nicola Roy is all efficient friendliness and sharp backchat as she asks after our ailments and settles us into the common room where Crawford Logan’s Frank is going to deliver a speech to the inaugural meeting of the gardening club.
In his corduroy trousers and tie, he has just the right mix of a retired teacher’s genial good manners and old-school pomposity. His talk, a blend of gardening anecdotes and tangential meanders, has the overwritten quality that typifies a man a little too in love with his own voice, drifting into purple passages wherever a horticultural metaphor comes into view.
Capek is not immune to metaphors either, and, in the passing of the seasons and the process of nurturing a garden, he finds a parallel with the transitions of human life.
Slowly and subtly, in between tea breaks and medicine-taking, it becomes a touching portrait of bereavement, a lonely man’s resigned, pragmatic but no less heartfelt experience of losing a wife. It feels fragile and intimate, and made all the more special for a minor coup de theatre, thanks to designer Ed Robson, before we leave.
Until 27 August. Today 2:30pm and 4:30pm.