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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


Alan Ayckbourn

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To purchase Garden

Title: Garden
Author: Alan Ayckbourn
Genre: Drama
Written: 1999
Length: 106 pages
Availability: in House & Garden - US
in House & Garden - UK
  • First performed 17 June 1999, at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
  • Intended to be performed simultaneously with House (see our review)
  • "Revisions made to the text during rehearsals for the production at the Royal National Theatre are not included in this edition." (The NT production was first presented 9 August 2000)

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Our Assessment:

B : quite fun and clever, but doesn't really stand convincingly on its own

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 21/6/1999 Michael Billington
The Guardian A 10/8/2000 Michael Billington
The Guardian . 7/7/2001 Lyn Gardner
The Independent . 10/8/2000 Paul Taylor
The Independent . 13/8/2000 Kate Bassett
New York A 3/6/2002 John Simon
The New Yorker D 3/6/2002 Nancy Franklin
The NY Observer . 3/6/2002 John Heilpern
The NY Times . 22/5/2002 Bruce Weber
The Spectator . 19/8/2000 Sheridan Morley
Time . 28/8/2000 Richard Zoglin
The Times . 11/8/2000 Benedict Nightingale
TLS B- 9/7/1999 Tim Auld
Wall St. Journal . 20/2/2001 Joel Henning

  Review Consensus:

  Considerably less enthusiastic than about House

  From the Reviews:
  • "If I prefer House to Garden, it is because so much is left to our imagination: we can envisage both the emotional havoc taking place in the lower meadow and the sodden awfulness of a summer fete. In Garden, we see all this for ourselves." - Michael Billington, The Guardian (21/6/1999)

  • "House subtly intertwines tragedy and comedy: Garden, with its collapsing tents and escalating midsummer madness, is more visibly farcical." - Michael Billington, The Guardian (10/8/2000)

  • "Unfortunately, Ayckbourn is so busy getting his characters on and off stage at the right moment that he never develops the ideas. But what you lose in depth is made up for in entertainment value -- and it's all the fun, and half the work, of a real village fete." - Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

  • "Despite the publicity, neither is really free-standing. Indeed, Garden is so much the weaker piece that you feel as though you are attending a piano recital where the instrumentalist has elected to play only the left hand of the music." - Paul Taylor, The Independent

  • "However, it must be said, Garden is rather a disappointment narratively. The action feels diffuse, the dialogue is sometimes repetitive, the interconnections between the two plays are not as neat as you might expect, and there aren't that many surprise revelations." - Kate Bassett, The Independent

  • "See the plays preferably in alphabetical order and on the same day, but such is Ayckbourn's mastery that each can stand on its own legs as securely as the actors can run on theirs." - John Simon, New York

  • "There is a yawning purposelessness to the play, stretching out as far as the eye can see; what the eye can't see is where the action really is. Garden is, in the truest sense, a backstage comedy." - Nancy Franklin, The New Yorker

  • "In fact, though there are amusements to be had in each, neither play stands satisfyingly alone. (...) Indeed, no matter which you see first, you can't begin to love it until the intermission of the other." - Bruce Weber, The New York Times

  • "The greater problem is that Garden has to accommodate House, to the extent that not even Ayckbourn characters can be on two stages at once; so despite the brilliance of the stage-management here, there remain some ugly pauses in the actual writing where Ayckbourn himself, as author and director, is clearly having to play for time." - Sheridan Morley, The Spectator

  • "The laughs are plentiful, but the comedy, as usual in Ayckbourn, is tinged with pathos and pain." - Richard Zoglin, Time

  • "Along the way to these emotional disasters there's plenty of enjoyable incident. (...) Together, House and Garden show a major dramatist in total command of his funny yet serious art." - Benedict Nightingale, The Times

  • "Garden is an uneven mix of brief, fragmented exchanges, melodramatic farce and shapeless slapstick. House is all text, Garden all subtext; while Garden does whet the appetite for what might be happening in House , it is really a collage of scenes which Ayckbourn would have left to the imagination had he chosen to make House a single play." - Tim Auld, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Garden seems at first merely an annex to House, but it is far more." - Joel Henning, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Garden is the twin of House (see our review). Both plays are meant to be performed simultaneously, in theatres set side by side, with the same actors (playing the same characters) moving back and forth in the same basic story. Choosing this limitation, the great challenge for Ayckbourn was to create two separate plays that can each be viewed (or read) on their own.
       Ayckbourn does pull off this feat in part by crowding his stages: there are a lot of parts in these plays, and a lot of storylines (can't have all the action be in the House -- or the Garden -- at some points, after all). The stories from House are also taken up in Garden, with new and different aspects shown, and a few of the stories are more completely presented here. (The plays can be seen/read in either order, but House does seem the better introduction to all the happenings.)
       The setting is the Platt estate, and preparations are underway for a garden fête. There is a Maypole, and there will be Morris dancing, and stalls for all sorts of fun. But it looks like rain -- indeed, apparently the fête gets washed out every year.
       Neighbours Teddy Platt and Joanna Mace are having an affair which isn't going quite so well any longer: too many people know about it, for one, and it threatens Teddy's new-found political ambitions. While in House the initial focus is on Teddy's wife, Tricia, here it is his lover, Joanna, that is at the centre.
       The Mace son, Jake, is also interested in the Platt daughter, Sally, but his flailing wooing attempts fall fairly flat.
       Other figures also appear on the scene: the novelist Gavin Ryng-Mayne, who appears to have an agenda (or two) of his own. There is also the French actress, Lucille Cadeau, who is to ceremoniously open the fête -- but also has other reasons for being in this area in the middle of nowhere. There are also the shopkeepers, Barry and Lindy Love -- an apparently happy couple, perhaps too optimistically named. And there is the help: Izzie and Pearl Truce, and gardener Warn Coucher.
       There are a number of entanglements, and love is considered from a variety of angles. The fête does, indeed, get washed out -- though that doesn't stop everyone from trying to have some fun. There is some entertaining wet drama (of the bilingual sort, no less) at the end, and some touching bits. Eventually most of the characters do learn something, moving along (though not always happily) in their lives.
       It is all a bit much: Garden is cluttered with stories. Still, Ayckbourn has a nice (and often witty) touch, and most of the stories play themselves out quite well on the stage. The play is well done, but for all that Garden still doesn't seem like a complete play; one always remains aware of House just next door.

       Note that Ayckbourn performs his juggling act (of keeping two plays and all those stories in the air at all times) quite well, but there are scenes which are a bit forced. In both plays, for example, Jake and Sally talk about Teddy and Joanna in the bushes, and Jake reiterates what a trusting fellow his Dad is, etc. There are also other bits of overlap -- information that is essentially repeated in the same way in both plays (rather than being introduced in a different way, as is the case most of the time). None of this appears too unnatural, but it is a slight blemish.

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Garden: Reviews: Alan Ayckbourn: Other books by Alan Ayckbourn under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Drama under review

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About the Author:

       British playwright Alan Ayckbourn was born in 1939. He has written more than fifty plays.

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© 2001-2009 the complete review

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