Chichester Festival Theatre – until 16 June 2018
Guest reviewer: 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, looks 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 is one of the best I have ever had the joy to see. The sheer amount of detail in the light and airy garden room is astounding. It is littered with so many little ornaments and knick-knacks and perfectly captures the faded grandeur of a bygone age as well as the bohemian nature of its owner.
Emma Curtis, as the pyromaniac, problem teen Laurel is wonderfully precocious and has a huge amount of childlike energy in her performance. Barely sitting still for a second she plays up to all the other characters to try to desperately gain attention and affection. Her relationship with Matthew Cottle as Manservant Maitland is particularly endearing. His performance is also full of energy with the stress and overwork visible in his face, voice and actions.
Amanda Root is very staid, calm and reserved as the newly employed companion Miss Madrigal. Her performance is very consistent until she lets go all of her frustrations right at the end of the play where it skyrockets. 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 shines. She is bohemian, stubborn and wily and completely owns the stage. As a true veteran of the English stage and screen, she is 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.