When is the last time you thought about, visited, or even tended to an allotment? Probably not recently. And the last time you saw a play set in and around an allotment? If never, get down to the BT Studio for this light-hearted play about gardening, which also poses more serious questions about sisterhood and the passing of time.
On entering the BT Studio, the audience is met with an intimate, pared-down setting that succeeds in conjuring an intimate atmosphere, almost as if the audience is intruding upon the two sisters’ realm. Whilst Abby McCann and Hannah Taylor – Dora and Maddie respectively – might have a hard job in trying to engage the audience before the play officially gets underway, once it starts, the two are both convincing by themselves and, together, a great duo: there is no fourth wall here.
Dora and Maddie, we are led to believe, are two quite different, perhaps even competing, siblings. Dora is forthright and serious, Maddie more mischievous and, at least to begin with, prone to siding with her sister. And yet this imbalance of power is seen to shift as the play progresses, with Maddie emerging from beneath her sister’s shadow and, in so doing, revealing a latent tension between her and her sister’s worldviews: “Dora knows best. She always does. Maddie knows best. She knows.”
Both for the fact that only two people are on stage and for the fact that the play incorporates and takes advantage of elements of the absurd – have you seen a play begin with the characters eating raspberries from their fingers and thumbs? – Allotment necessarily calls to mind Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Like Vladimir and Estragon, Dora and Maddie laugh and get on each other’s nerves, seem cut off the from the outside world and are obliged to grapple with the passing of time. The implication is that the sisters start out in the allotment as youngsters and remain there as they grow older; references to discovering sexuality point to this interpretation, but they do seem a bit forced. Like Vladimir and Estragon, the two repeat themselves and each other, as much in gesture as in speech, but they break with the mould cast by Beckett in breaking the fourth wall with frequent asides to and, more generally, engagement with the audience. Serving a more interactive experience and presenting us with a three-dimensional picture of the protagonists, this is an interesting move on the part of the directorial team.
Besides the plotline, which is stronger in places than in others, McCann and Taylor’s extensive recourse to movement and physical comedy adds another dimension to the play. Much is done in spite of the more pared-back staging arrangements, common to BT Studio productions, and so those responsible for the set design are to be commended for their creativity.
Lighting and sound are good, save for the last scene which makes use of a strange and frankly uncomfortable musical arrangement. Doubtless it was the intention of the creative team to induce a sense of unease in spectators as the play reaches its crescendo, but the reason for doing so is not made clear.
In all, then, whilst its approach to broaching the duality of light-hearted and profound questions is not always successful, Allotment promises some laughs and two solid performances.