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Nina Muehlemann reviews 'The Garden', an outdoor theatre spectacle by Graeae and Strange Fruit / 8 September 2012

photo of a performer high up on a pole against a blue sky

Graeae and Strange Fruit present The Garden

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After the fantastic spectacle that was the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, which was speckled with both Shakespearian and punk influences and saw golden wheelchairs flying through the air, I have very high expectations of ‘The Garden’.

This short outdoor play is a co-production between the theatre company Graeae and Strange Fruit, a performance company from Australia. It is co-directed by Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director at Graeae, who was also the artistic co-director for the Paralympic Opening Ceremony. ‘The Garden’, just like the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, involves disabled performers ‘flying through the air’, and draws heavily on literary references – this time on the works of William Blake, rather than on Shakespeare’s plays. Needless to say, I am excited to see whether ‘The Garden’ will enchant me in similar ways as the Paralympic Opening Ceremony did.

The terrace of the Southbank Centre is completely transformed: There are flowerpots scattered around everywhere, big and small ones, flowers of every shape and colour. The green stage is framed by poles, which are also decorated with huge flowers. High up in the air, on the poles, there are performers, dressed in black cloaks, swaying forth and back through the blue sky. An orchestra plays beautiful music, and the effect is magical, like we are in the middle of a world that has gone a long time ago, or that has never existed at all.

Then the story unfolds: The garden is protected by keepers, the figures dressed in the black cloaks, and we hear how three of the keepers have been transformed from being regular visitors of a beautiful garden into those aerial guards that protect the garden. The stories are just as poetic and fairy-tale like the setting of 'The Garden' is, and they seem enchanting and vaguely familiar both at the same time. Through this familiarity, I am drawn into ‘The Garden’ very quickly, and although the play is only about 30 minutes long, it feels to me like I have entered a different world. Jenny Sealey has done it again.

Keywords: graeae,outdoor art,theatre