Assembly Rooms – Drawing Room

August 1-25th – 11:00

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

A figure sits on a chair. Her face is made of newspaper and where her mouth should be sits a
pink rose. The figure feels her face, as if for the first time. She begins to pick at the rose, trying
to claw it out of her mouth.
This is the opening image of Tales From the Garden, a one-woman show directed by Kathleen
Stephens and co-written by and starring Ameera Conrad. The play follows a traumatic
experience the speaker underwent three years ago and her struggle to heal from it. The first
thing that bears mentioning about Tales From the Garden is its design. The play is set in the
eponymous garden of the title, however, this garden is artificial, newspaper covering the entirety
of the set. This disjunction between the natural and the manufactured evokes a sense of
displacement that relates to the trauma at the centre of the piece. We as the audience are
invited into the speaker’s world, a world that she has constructed herself in the wake of what
happened to her.
The focus of the play, however, is Conrad herself, who manages to carry the play beautifully.
Conrad has a boat-load of charisma, which she effectively uses in engaging her audience,
whilst also having the emotional heft required when moving to the heavier sections of the play.
Conrad puts the audience in her shoes, so that when she comes to the events at the
the centrepiece of the play it is comprehensible, if not ever fully understandable.
It would be wrong to impose a direct reading onto Tales From the Garden. Part of it, I believe,
is about reconstructing identity in the wake of something that is unfathomable. The play
ends with the same image that it started with: a figure with a face made of newspaper and a
rose for a mouth. I don’t believe that Conrad and Stephens are saying that it’s possible to forget
traumatic events or ever return to a place before they happened. I believe they are saying that
it’s possible if we come to accept the things that have happened to us, that we might at some
point heal. And I believe they make that point in a very effective and affecting way.


William Byam Shaw