In the four years between the first play and Over Gardens Out (1969), the playwright had acquired a dramatic flair. A sequence of fragmented monologues performed simultaneously, and even the simple device of a prayer masquerading as the sound of a bluebottle, add theatrical fizz.
Under Sam Brown’s sharp and insightful direction, a superb cast bring this potentially mundane streak of 60s naturalism to blazing life. There’s a sketchiness to some of the characterisations as written (in particular Laura Hilliard’s all-too-briefly seen landlady), but the five actors flesh them out with sincerity and truthfulness.
The increasingly physical relationship between Dennis (Meillir Rhys Williams) and the younger, thuggish Londoner Jeffry (Callum Calaghan) is enigmatic, not least because of the lack of awareness from the latter of where the intimate camaraderie is leading. Both actors shine in their contrasting roles.
Kirsten Clark’s ailing mother is a beautifully-drawn performance and the relationship with her son, more that of a daughter at times, is truly touching. Dan Starkey is also excellent as the slightly distant father, doubling as a subtly lecherous shop assistant.
If The Sleepers' Den stretched its material a little thin, Over Gardens Out is under-written and cries out for a second act. It’s not a major work but an insinuatingly satisfying one and is unlikely to get a better showcase than this.
- Simon Thomas