Old Herbaceous, Kick in the Head , Aberystwyth Arts Centre

July 28, 2018 by

Kick in the Head has a lean overhead, comprising Simon Downing, Giles Shenton and Andrew Brewis. Their production of “Old Herbaceous”, a script by  from Reginald Arkell’s 1950 novel, premiered in 2016. It will play 75 performances over the course of 2018. Aberystwyth’s studio is well filled, the audience more than three times larger than that at Aberaeron a week previously. At the Torch an actor from Walton-on-Thames sold out the studio. Kick in the Head’s public subsidy is a nice round number, being £0.00.

“Old Herbaceous” is set in a greenhouse, the private domain of the aged gardener, Herbert Pinnegar. The design is both simple and elaborate, comprising a hundred-plus workaday items that are a gardener’s necessities. Spade and rake, metal jug and ewer feature. Giles Shenton, in corduroy trousers, cap and apron, pots his seedlings, whets his knife, paints the leaves of plants. In an earlier time plain soap and water were used for protection. He wipes his forehead and rosy cheeks in the warmth under glass.

The company has gifted us a pack of seeds apiece to be found on every seat. Shenton plucks some leaves from the scented geraniums. He hands them to the front row, asks us to pass them on, to admire the scents of lemon and orange.

And he talks, relating the course of a life in its simple entirety. Herbert Pinnegar has not been dealt the best of advantages. A foundling child he has a leg condition that prevents military service when the call comes in 1939. Barely into teenagehood he presents himself at the Manor in Fairfield – the setting is  Gloucestershire  – for enrolment as an under-gardener. His hair, as was the fashion, is slicked with vaseline. From then the script breathes flowers. Herbert recalls mimulus, sweet rocket, begonia, lily of the valley. His technique with early strawberries awes the gentry whom he serves.

The years as under-gardener are those of work. Pinnegar comes to see in the garden a small simulacrum of the world itself. The foes are constant in the form of blight, weed and nettle. He shows us his own weapon against the ever-chomping slugs, a half-orange. With time he ascends to head gardener. He is pressed against his inclination to be judge at a county show. He is obliged to make a public speech at the show which he carries off with naïve aplomb. The once-foundling is startled to find he has made a mention in the newspaper.

Beyond the garden is an older Britain. On elevation to his role of authority he is challenged. Pinnegar dissects the nature of the challenge and sees it off some guile. He observes the social stratification that plays out at the Chelsea Show. The gardeners are finely turned out, their employers always a few feet ahead are in their uniform of aged tweeds. The tension between classes runs throughout. Pinnegar and his employer, the prematurely widowed Mrs Charteris, are as bonded in general care for the garden as they are regularly divided over daily practice.

At the end the lighting closes in on the face and grows ever paler before extinction. Pinnegar, a man from another age, becomes a kind of Everyman. His has been a life that has seen the world narrowly but narrowness does not preclude being in it deeply, and feeling it knowingly.

For full review see:  http://www.theatre-wales.co.uk/reviews/reviews_details.asp?reviewID=4081

Leave a Reply