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Nutshell Theatre at Inverleith Allotments

Thursday, 25 August, 2011

Sisters in nature

In the open air: Allotment

Step through the gates at Inverleith Allotments and a warm scone spread with homemade rhubarb jam is offered to you, along with a mug of tea just how you might want it.

To step through these gates is to allow Nutshell theatre company to usher you into the intimate world of the allotment. As Maddy and Dora lead their audience through the functioning allotment, you are inside a special area of society, removed from Edinburgh and surrounded by nature, the outcome of hard work, years of love, devotion and weeding. It may be a space familiar to some, but it could also stand for those on the outside looking in, offering a rare opportunity for escape.

The script tells the story of two sisters and their world within the allotment. The narrative spans their childhood into their adult lives, all contained within the site-specific setting. This narrative is a bit of a whirlwind, jumping from childhood to adulthood in a matter of seconds, but the pacing from Kate Nelson’s direction matched this demand and she skilfully blends small vignettes of the sisters’ lives together, as opposed to creating a logically consistent flowing line of action.

This worked well in the setting, as the sun dipped in and out of the clouds and the smells of earth and flowers came and went, so did these fleeting moments that contribute to their relationships. Darkly comic moments emerged through the sisters’ relationship, at once complex and loving. Nicola Jo Cully and Pauline Goldsmith gave intimate performances – not an easy task in an outdoor setting next to a busy road. Their performances were at times joyful and poignant whilst exhibiting flawless comic timing. At times though, both actors struggled vocally against the noise pollution and resorted to shouting, which was at times exhausting to watch.

Kate Nelson’s character took inspiration from T.S Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton, specifically the two lines;

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is”

Eliot’s poem is about children playing in the rose garden of a manor house.

Jules Horne has produced a script that evokes so perfectly the sentiment of these lines. When together in their allotment Maddy and Dora are ‘at the still point of the turning world’. Their dance demonstrates their freedom within the confines of this vegetable patch; they argue, play, drink and have sex there.

An enchanting and unique setting matched the characters which provided an all-round sensory experience. Together, the script, the characters, the sight of the allotment and the others surrounding it, work to create an unforgettable experience.  Maddy and Dora encourage their audience to smell mint and lavender as they rub their hands and ‘throw’ the scent into the audience, it actually works. Combine that with the mug of warm tea and the scone and you have an atmosphere that is relaxed and intimate, but as is so common when one is outside and allowed to frolic in mud, mischief is bubbling under the surface dampened with a little nostalgia.

Performed by: Nicola Jo Cully (Maddy), Pauline Goldsmith (Dora)
Company: Director – Kate Nelson, Desinger – Sarah Paulley, Stage Managers – Michael Dixon and Ruth West, Production Manager – Peter Searle, Assistant Director – Alice Kornitzer, Producer – Ed Littlewood, Venue Manager- Rachel McEwen
Written by Jules Horne

(c) Alexandra Kavanagh 2011

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