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In A Garden (Bath)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Howard Korder’s 2010 play spans ten years - ‘89 to ’99 - during which a Middle-Eastern country’s relationship with the West (specifically the US) teeters and falls. It’s seen through the relationship between pushy and insecure architect Andrew Hackett (Kier Charles) and canny Culture Minister Othman (Hussein Shapi) who wants to commission a small garden gazebo. Othman keeps Hackett dancing on a string but is not himself free from the puppet play of politics. As the interactions and years roll on, power shifts, sometimes subtly, sometimes in hobnail boots.

The script is a taut, witty, elegant beast, very well served by Richard Beecham’s clean, assured direction. He feels no pressure to overwork what is chiefly a one-room two-hander and gives his talented cast space to let the play sing.

Hassani Shapi’s performance as Othman is superlative: complex, subtle, very, very funny - I’d watch it all again just for him. His foil is Kier Charles as Hackett. His pent-up frustration doesn’t quite satisfy, but it feels as though this is a script and not a performance issue. Chris Andrew Mellon is a gorgeously, invigoratingly horrible dictator and Mark Heenehan’s US Army administrator is just what you’d want him to be: burly, in charge and a bit of an everyday Joe.

This play is full of thought: it’s meaty stuff, served with raised eyebrow and canny wit. It challenges assumptions and sympathies, draws evident political parallels and points fingers. One power falls, another takes its place. After all, as the closing scene reminds us, some things never change.


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