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Mrs Reynolds and the Ruffian (Watford)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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How does your garden grow? The answer to that can depend on where precisely that garden is situated. In Gary Owens’ new play (a commission from Watford’s Palace Theatre), Mrs Reynolds’ front garden is in a street which has seen better days. Once it housed families; now it is full of run-down rented-out accommodation. Her garden has been vandalised and the perpetrator has been caught and sentenced to Community Payback, formerly known as Community Service.

Jay, to be frank, is a yob. He knows enough to work the system but not enough to engage with people except on the simplest of terms. Required to right the damage he has caused, he does his best to make the experience even more unpleasant for Mrs Reynolds as it is for himself. Owen weights the argument in Jay’s favour by giving him a background which includes extraordinary abuse. But Mrs Reynolds is more than just a middle-class widow treading down to the end of her life.

The other people we meet are Kieran, another street-wise youth; Mel, a single mother who’s gradually regaining a sense of her own proper worth, and Cassie, the case worker with boxes to be ticked in all the right places. Neither Kieran nor Cassie have any instinct to move from the positions in which they feel comfortable. The emotional journey is for Jay and Mrs Reynolds to undertake and, to a lesser extent, also for Mel.

Brigid Larmour’s production has two very good performances in the title roles. Trudie Goodwin is a contained Mrs Reynolds, neat in appearance, precise in speech and marvellously inventive as she gradually urns from being the victim to becoming a victor and then reaching a strange sort of compromise position. Morgan Watkins slobs effectively as Jay, the boy scratching towards manhood with so much darkness inside him and without any proper means either to exorcise or simply discard it.

As Mel, Suzie McGrath captures the audience’s understanding and liking from her first entrance and there are good sketches of officialdom under pressure from Annie Hemingway as Cassie and of thoughtless energy by Ricci McLeod as Kieran. The set is a simple one. Ruari Murchison borders it with flowers and backs it with a mountain of compacted rubbish, fitting frame to a wall which attracts graffiti of many kinds and is as much an allegory as the play itself.


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