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Friday, 18 February 2011 15:21

A Garden of Earthy Delights

Written by Connie Bollinger
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The Details

Alan Ayckbourn's Round and Round the Garden has wit, sophistication, sight gags, innuendo, double entendre, physical humor, impeccable timing and jolly amoral characters; in other words, all the elements of a ripping good English farce.

Tom the Vet is in love with Annie but can't find the words to tell her. Annie, sole caretaker of her rapidly failing mother, is about to slip away with charming brother – in – law, Norman for a weekend of slap and tickle. Enter Sara, and her husband, Reg, come to stay with mother during Annie's "break." Sara, gets wind of the assignation, talks Annie out of her plans, then calls Norman's wife, Ruth, to come fetch wayward Norman.

In a beautifully tangled summer garden complete with Victorian benches, pottery, flowers, garden gate, and flagstone patio, we're introduced to Tom, the painfully shy uptight Veterinarian who lurks around Annie's house on the pretense of caring for her invalid Mother's cat. Puss seems surprisingly accident prone, needing Tom's services so much that Annie remarks, "Puss is the only cat in England with a personal physician." Tom is frustratingly dense, painfully tongue tied, woefully confused and entirely loveable.

Mark Kelley gives us a wonderfully smarmy Norman, an amoral, charming narcissist who, in the space of one weekend, manages to woo all three sisters at once. There's a bit of the Monty Python element in Kelley's performance. Kelley's got that lean, lanky John Clees body, loose jointed, deceptively gawky, yet he moves about the stage with the grace of a dancer. I loved
Naughty Norman.

Norman's wife, Ruth, played with kinetic sarcasm by Ellie Schwetye, is the perfect match for Norman. Ever confident of Norman's eventual return to the security of the marital bed, she indulges him in his occasional indiscretions, even when they occur inside the family. Schwetye struts and paces around the stage, oozing confidence and disillusionment always in control of herself and the situation. She has incredible presence. One of the funniest scenes comes when Ruth tries to explain Annie's need for physical contact to a hopelessly dense Tom.

Scott Sears and Christina Rios are spot on as Reg and Sara, the solidly married couple whose lives aren't quite what they seem. Reg confesses to Norm that he wishes wife Sara would go for a bit of a fling. "Might teacher her some things," he says wistfully, "and then, of course, leave the way open for me to do the same." For her part, Sara is the family problem solver, the stereotypical older sister whose problem solving skills don't happen to reach into her own sagging marriage.

And finally, there's Annie. Unflagging optimism coupled with an amorality that matches Norman's, Annie is a puzzle. Young, beautiful Annie seems to let life happen to her, exhibiting little or no resentment at having been delegated the job of sole caregiver for their invalid mother. Norman wants to go away, so she consents to go without much enthusiasm or passion. When her sister Sara doesn't approve of the trip with Norman, Annie allows Sara to talk her out of it, exhibiting no resistance and very little disappointment. Annie knows how Tom feels about her but declines to help him stammer out any kind of admission rather enjoying, I think, his mooning discomfort. The beautiful Rachel Hartmann plays the ambiguous Annie with grace and a mysterious smile that leads me to believe that Annie has many more secrets she'll never tell.

From sets to costumes to actors, under the deft direction of Black Cat veteran Edie Avioli Round and Round the Garden is a garden of delights.

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