Old Herbacious

2016OLDHERB_BT

Theatre

The Brunton

Venue 191

19.30

20 August ONLY

***

 

What exactly was the factor that kept the audience riveted to Giles Shenton’s performance?

 

It’s a simple story: old Herbert Pinnegar has spent his life as a gardener at ‘the big house’ shares his memories with us.  His interest in flowers and plants was aroused with the help and encouragement of the village schoolmistress.  He won first prize in the village fair’s wild flower competition, and when “My Lady” presented him with the prize and whispered to him that he won because he had carefully cut the flowers, not simply yanked them out of the ground as others had: thus began his lifelong devotion to plants, and to her.  All the village boys were destined to work on the land, but Herbert refused: fortunately he was taken on as an apprentice by Captain and Mrs. Charteris at the Big House.

 

We hear of Herbert’s first day at work and his gradual rise up the ranks within the garden until eventually he becomes head gardener, addressed as “Mr Pinnegar”.  A few useful gardening tips are slipped in among his stories.  He learned a valuable lesson about the fickleness of women at an early age, and we gradually realise his mute adoration of ‘my lady’, who values his worth as a gardener, appreciates the things he does for her and his refusal to be seduced away from ‘his’ garden by the lure of higher wages elsewhere, but almost certainly sees him as ‘just a gardener’.  Mrs Charteris’ health gradually declines, the estate has to be sold, but he is not thrown out of his tied cottage, as might be expected: the new owners have agreed to let Herbert stay in his cottage as long as he needs it.  We leave Herbert sitting with his memories as the light slowly fades…

 

This is a simple, low-key, elegiac piece, yearning for a long-lost way of life: Giles Shenton draws us into his world from his first entrance.  The set is a pretty realistic greenhouse: Herbert potters about among the plants, pots and other paraphernalia, washing flower pots, potting on plants, drinking from his flask of tea, and chatting as he does so, and we are held entranced from start to finish.  The piece doesn’t have bells, whistles, or fireworks, but it is a nostalgic, quietly satisfying evening spent with someone who creates an instant rapport with the audience, drawing us into his world and making the characters in it so real we feel you have known them for ever.

 

The disappointingly small audience were loud and enthusiastic in their applause.

 

 

Mary Woodward