THE PLANT, Ensemble Theatre, 12 July-5 August 2017. Photography by Prudence Upton - above: Sandy Gore and Michelle Lim Davidson; below - l-r: Garth Holcombe, Helen Dallimore, Sandy Gore and Briallen Clarke
Kit Brookman’s new play was the winner of the Ensemble Theatre’s 2016 New Writing Commission and it’s now on stage at the theatre. Such a quick turn-around and subsequent month's rehearsal period means a top cast is vital and it’s got that.
Sue (Sandy Gore) is emerging from the long dark tunnel of grief after the sudden death of her husband, three years previously. As is often the case, this sudden burst of sunshine spurs her into action, like a beetle who's rock has been moved. She’s getting rid of stuff – his clothes and clutter – and packing everything else into boxes for storage or removal.
Some of the stuff belongs to her adult kids and this flurry of ruthless activity unnerves them. Elder daughter Erin (Helen Dallimore), younger daughter Naomi (Briallen Clarke) and son Daniel (Garth Holcombe) arrive at their childhood home to find it stripped bare, their treasures headed for Vinnies or worse; and their mother has taken to talking to and hanging out with a potted Begonia Rex she’s named Clare (Michelle Lim Davidson).
Aside from a certain absurdity, the situation actually overflows with logic as Sue wrestles with residual grief, bewilderment and the determination to get on with her life and not be alternately bossed about and ignored by her children. “Where does time go once it’s past?” she wonders, and this and many other questions begin to occupy her waking hours.
Nevertheless, the siblings think she’s going a bit bonkers and also that Clare is a fraud and a chancer who’s going to rob their mother blind. The equally bonkers concept of a criminally-minded begonia doesn’t seem to bother them, but that’s perhaps because the plant seems more credible than most and also very pretty in a pink and leafy sort of way.
In their typically 21st century and different fashion, the three children have had little time for their mother in her loneliness, so why they’re shocked and furious that she’s finally taken matters into her own hands only underlines their self absorption. Helen Dallimore is sharply funny as the harried publisher of bestselling colouring books for grownups; Briallen Clarke balances out her elder sister’s over-achieving ways by spending most of her time getting stoned and as their mama’s boy brother Garth Holcombe is mostly baffled by them all; especially his aggressively serene mother and her pot plant.
The Plant is an idiosyncratic bitter-sweet comedy, smartly directed by Elsie Edgerton-Till so that its 90 minutes are filled with colour and movement and occasional grenades of harsher and more difficult questions about life and death, jealousy and fright. The action is tightly focused by a simple green set (Isabel Hudson) and Benjamin Brockman’s lighting of individuals.
Like most begonias, The Plant is never going to set the world on fire, but it is attractive and appealing – particularly as played by Michelle Lim Davidson. And the company makes the most and more of every laugh and nuance. A pink, amusing and often thought-provoking way to spend time on a winter’s day, or night.