The Chalk Garden – Chichester Festival Theatre Until 16th June

★★★

Team Review by Sarah Miatt

Edith Bagnold’s 1955 play The Chalk Garden is well suited to Chichester Festival Theatre. Being set in East Sussex, the title comes from the unforgiving chalk soil of the area. As a play it tackles many issues that are still relevant today and, with a predominantly female cast, was in many ways ahead of its time.

This production, designed by Simon Higlett looked stunning. It is of course far easier to make a set very detailed when it is static and doesn’t have to be changed, but even taking this into account the detail of his set was one of the best I have ever had the joy to see. The sheer amount of detail in the light and airy garden room was astounding. It was littered with so many little ornaments and knick knacks and perfectly captured the faded grandeur of a bygone age as well as the bohemian nature of its owner.

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Emma Curtis, as pyromaniac, problem teen, Laurel was wonderfully precocious and had a huge amount of childlike energy in her performance. Barely sitting still for a second she played up to all the other characters to try to desperately gain attention and affection. Her relationship with Matthew Cottle as Manservant, Maitland was particularly endearing. His performance was also full of energy with the stress and overwork visible in his face, voice and actions.

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Amanda Root was very staid, calm and reserved as newly employed companion, Miss Madrigal. Her performance was very consistent until she let go all of her frustrations right at the end of the play where it skyrocketed. It is perhaps more the script than the performance but it would have been nice to see this emotion slowly increase throughout the play. Finally, as the lady of the house  Mrs St Maugham, Penelope Keith simply shone. She was bohemian, stubborn and wily and completely owned the stage. As a true veteran of the English stage and screen, she was everything one would expect, and more.

This play is funny and thought-provoking in equal measure but, until the end of the play when everything comes to a head with a bang, is lacking something. However it is visually stunning to look at and has some extremely impressive performances from a talented and very well rehearsed cast.

You can see The Chalk Garden at Chichester Festival Theatre until 16th June.

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