How does a garden grow?
The Garden of Granddaughters
Written by Stephen Sewell
Directed by George Ogilvie
Sydney Theatre Production
Wharf Theatre until July 31
Reviewed by Mina O'Shea
The Garden of Granddaughters is a play about its enchanting title — where the flowers of identity and belonging grow.
When a couple arrive in Melbourne from New York to visit their three daughters and three granddaughters, we are introduced to three generations and all their resentment and tenderness for each other.
The daughters are women who have chosen very different lives, but all feel "checked up on" by their parents. They are unprepared for the self-examination the visit will spark.
Supermum, an artist horrified by the state of the world and a self-proclaimed lover of men bounce off each other, revealing their individuality and "sisterhood".
Their father is taking stock of his life, partly through the achievements of his children. He feels the need to impart wisdom to his daughters but, despite his profound and well-spoken (and often unwanted) advice, there is a lot about them he cannot or will not see.
A family of many individuals coming together raises emotion and reflection — what could the parents have done better in raising their children? What is the value of our lives, whether they be devoted to child raising or creative expression? Is there any great knowledge the old can pass along the timeless chain of human existence? These are some of the Big Questions, and ones which successful art deals with in new ways.
The Garden of Granddaughters, rather than subtly weaving the issues throughout, parades them too obviously. The characters are tools for asking questions and are not allowed to develop. That is
disappointing because initially they are real and fascinating, and honoured with good actors.
Without the characters developing, the philosophical ideas fail to have the living spark which transports one from sitting in a theatre watching people act into a new mind space of experience and enlightenment.
It is humour which propels the play and holds it together. It is a fast and contemporary humour, good because it obviously springs from an understanding of the interactions of family members. It is laced with accurate observations of society.
Although not a powerful play, The Garden of Granddaughters is both clever and enjoyable.