Edinburgh Festival: Gardening for the Unfulfilled and Alienated (4 stars)

There are so few tickets available for this intimate show – performed to two audience members in a tiny shed opposite the Pleasance Grand – that the run is entirely sold out, and I’m imagining half of them have gone to press or industry types.

Today, it’s me and writer Brad Birch’s agent. One of us gets to sit on a plant pot, the other a stool, while Owain, a man with a trowel and a glint in his eye, tells of his journey from office worker to gardener with a sinister secret.

Beneath this, it’s a piece about male alienation and the satisfaction of finding something you’re good at and doing it well. When Owain finds a book – Gardening for the Unfulfilled and Alienated – a strange and magical mix of horticulture tips and self-help, something clicks. “Worry not,” it says, “if you are one of life’s almost men. For you too can have some beauty in your life.” As his garden grows and his family start to treat him differently, plants become an obsession – driving him to extreme actions to stay ahead of his neighbours.

Having a single performer deliver a monologue directly to you and one other person is an intense and, at times, moving experience. Sharing a cup of tea becomes something profound – a connection with a character.

Richard Corgan gives a compelling performance. Birch’s writing is full of truth and poetry; a tight monologue that turns gardening into a metaphor for something we can all relate to. As Owain speaks, you want to reach out and talk back, to break down the fourth wall – which Owain does in a few carefully timed moments. You start to feel like a therapist.

Which makes this show all the more disturbing when things develop in a way that we feel less comfortable with…

Written for The Scotsman

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