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Over Gardens Out

Peter Gill
Good Night Out
Riverside Studio 3
(2010)

Over Gardens Out production photo

Peter Gill's Over Gardens Out, about a couple of Cardiff teenage boys, was first staged at the Royal Court in 1969 after he had directed several of D.H. Lawrence's short plays there and you can't help seeing a connection between them and the mother-son relation in this study of ordinary people in South Wales, for his characters have the same reality. He is writing about people and circumstances he seems to really know.

Dennis (Meilir Rhys Williams, making his professional debut)) is still tightly bonded to the mother with whom he can exuberantly share a dance routine and a cuddle on her lap even as he bad-mouths her in his need to cut the apron strings. Though never explicit in the text there is also a strong undercurrent of trying to come to terms with his sexuality; with homosexuality barely decriminalized it was not easy to acknowledge to cope with the possibility that you might be gay.

He claims to be the elder, but he is much less worldly-wise than his mate Jeffry (Calum Callaghan) who is ex-borstal and living in digs. Jeffry may charm his landlady Mrs B (Laura Hilliard) and clearly has her in his pocket but while playing the perfect lodger he's got a vicious streak: seeing him take Mrs B's baby out of his pram must have made the original Royal Court audiences think of Bond's Saved.

Jeffry instigates the theft of women's clothes from washing lines, and his mild thrashing of Dennis's bottom with his belt is followed by the intimacy of huddling together in an old gun shelter. There is an experimental adolescent kinkiness going on that says much for the confusion in Dennis's mind and in Jeffry's case may not be so experimental.

However badly Dennis behaves - 'You always take the pleasure out of everything you do' his mother tells him' - he is still the apple of her eye. Kirsten Clark plays her as though she knows her gentle, caring husband (Dan Starkey) would disapprove of their games together.

Annemarie Woods's design uses open metal shelving around the acting area on which all necessary props are set and behind which we can see the other characters, just there at first but later often going about their business doing household chores, or attending church while a kitchen table is moved round by the cast to indicate a change of household or turned on its side to become the gun shelter. Against this outer stylization Sam Brown's production gets open and honest performances from all his cast but especially from the two boys.

Though under an hour in length this insight into lives that may be fictional but it has such truth, like the way Dennis combs his mothers hair and Jeffry's, unconsciously expressing his need for physical contact, so that that, despite its brevity, Over Gardens Out is oddly satisfying. There's nowt as strange as folk, and these folk I recognize.

Run ends 6th November 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton