Reginald Arkell adapted by Alfred Shaughnessy
Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
There’s a distinct risk that actor Peter Macqueen has planted a hardy annual of a one-man touring play that might become as difficult for him to shift as the accursed Japanese Knotweed.
It plays so delicately and directly to the kind of Studio-sized audience here that you could see it becoming his life's work, rather in the style of the old country house gardener he inhabits as Herbert 'Old Herbaceous' Pinnegar.
Mr P was the creation of Gloucestershire novelist Richard Arkell, a character adapted in turn by TV scriptwriter Alfred Shaughnessy, whose work on Upstairs Downstairs evidently attracted him towards this kind of Indoors Outdoors story. The resulting one-man play premièred in 1979 and flowered on stage, TV and radio before being re-potted around the world.
Old Pinnegar sits in his greenhouse and reflects on his years as a scion of the soil. Nowadays every movement he makes may be an effort, but every memory is a weightless treasure chest he can share. There's garden-spun philosophy of course, and a few green-fingered tips, mixed in with tales of young flirtatious romance, maybe an older unrequited love, and threaded through it all the poignant and affecting story of a foundling who went on to become a master gardener. And perhaps just missed meeting his mother...
It’s even a sensory show at times, when his watering can catches the front row, or he shares the scent of geraniums around the audience.
Director Stefan Escreet and designer Martin Johns graft on their own discreet talents.
It all adds up to a captivating entertainment that grows on you as Macqueen holds his audience in the palm of his authentically-soiled hands, giving the language just enough of a rustic burr.
His success with the first tour of Old Herbaceous spurred him on to write his own tribute to real-life Lakeland character Millican Dalton in The Professor of Adventure.
Between them both he has created two miniature and distinct character studies with an enduring and intrinsic audience value.