In a manor house by the sea where the flowers struggle to grow, 16-year-old Laurel runs wild. As her eccentric grandmother Mrs St Maugham tends to the garden, Laurel’s need for love forces her into a fantasy world, but things begin to change with the appointment of mysterious new governess, Miss Madrigal.
John Gielgud directed Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft in the critically acclaimed West End premiere at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 1956, the same year that John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger famously launched a very different theatrical era of working-class kitchen sink drama and “angry young men”. Author Enid Bagnold remains best known for her 1935 novel National Velvet. The titular garden was inspired by Bagnold’s own at North End House in Rottingdean.
At the Donmar, Margeret Tyzack stars as Mrs St Maugham, Penelope Wilton as Miss Madrigal and Felicity Jones as Laurel, with Steph Bramwell, Linda Broughton, Suzanne Burden, Jamie Glover and Clifford Rose also in the cast. The production is designed by Peter McKintosh.
Overnight reviews were very favourable, with the performances of leading ladies Margeret Tyzack and Penelope Wilton coming in for particular praise. Tyzack was labelled a “joy from start to finish” as the redoubtable Mrs St Maugham while Wilton’s take on the enigmatic governess Miss Madrigal was heralded a “masterpiece of economy”. But the real cause célèbre of the critics was the rediscovery of this “neglected stage masterpiece” thanks to Grandage’s “delectable” production. Bagnold’s writing had the same effect on critics last night as it did on their predecessors over 50 years ago, evoking acclamations such as “extravagantly eloquent”, “irresistibly vivid” and “hauntingly beautiful”.
- by Theo Bosanquet
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