Director: Simon Downing
Writer: Alfred Shaughnessy
Reviewer: Bethan Highgate-Betts
Adapted by Alfred Shaughnessy from Reginald Arkell’s novel of the same name, Old Herbaceous is an hour and a half of sheer delight. Upon entering the theatre we are greeted at our seats by a small packet of seeds and, with that, the scene is set for the heartfelt story to unfold. From there we meet the quietly loveable Herbert, as he reminisces about his seemingly ordinary life as a gardener on a large country estate.
The stage set as a gloriously normal garden shed and this is where all the action happens. Plants and pots strewn around the place, hooks to hang hat and overcoats, a little chair and a flask of tea. It is quaint, familiar and entirely believable, you really do feel like you are watching a man in his own garden shed. There are even times we can actually smell the plants, creating a scene which is evocative and immersive throughout.
A one man show, Old Herbaceous himself guides us through the quietly twisting and turning story that is his life. Herbert, as he’d rather be known, potters around his garden shed for the duration, sipping tea and potting plants. His story starts back before the Second World War and his very humble beginnings in life and travels right up until he is the old man in his garden shed that we see before us. Visiting village fetes, first jobs, the Chelsea Flower Show and Torquay along the way.
Giles Shenton is superb as the title character, completely captivating, he has the audience’s attentions and imaginations throughout. It is a testament to both the writing and Shenton’s abilities that an hour and a half of watching a man talk to himself is so engaging. Shenton is incredibly emotive in his performance and this really resonates with the story being told.
There is a slight change in tone over the second half. With everything that went before it rhetorical within its audience interaction, questions feeling as if they were asked to the character by the character. However, after the short interval questions are posed directly to the audience and small pieces of plant are passed around for everyone to experience. Although the sensory interaction is a very welcome, it does feel a bit jarring within the monologue structure of the piece.
This lovingly created production is a joy to watch. Sad at times, it unexpectedly twists into a quiet love story of sorts. A delightful tale, beautifully told, Old herbaceous is a treat to watch and not just for garden lovers.
Reviewed on 11 February 2017 | Image: Malcolm Mardon