Meet Me in the Gardens
Dublin Can Be Heaven
There’s a thin line between site-specific and guided tour, something which Shiva Productions “Meet Me in The Gardens” cleverly exploits. A series of four short plays by Sharon McCoy set in Dublin's National Botanic Gardens, “Meet Me in The Gardens” purports to explore the rich history of the National Botanic Gardens going back as far as 1822. Yet if actual history is thin on the ground, what emerges is far more satisfying, encompassing something of the spirit of the gardens were souls meet, stories are told, and a little enjoyment is shared.
Topped and tailed by two rather laboured monologues, which try to fabricate some unnecessary weight, “Meet Me in The Gardens” offers a very civilised promenade through four shows and one of Dublin's most iconic spaces. Promenade being the operative word, ensuring those of the Fit Bit or iPhone Watch disposition close their circles and get their steps in. After a lengthy ramble, made sumptuously enjoyable by scorching glorious sunshine, events get underway with the comic The Resurrection Men. Set in 1832, the exploits of the worldly Cormac and the foppish Finn, waiting for the sun to set before sneaking into Glasnevin Cemetery to steal bodies, speaks little to the history of the Botanic Gardens but much to its spirit, with two lively performances by Joe Purcell as Cormac and Rory Dignam as Finn. Early Birds, set ten year earlier, sees a drunken James White, in another high energy performance by Dignam, trying to impress, or blackmail, the hard working laundress, Mary McCoy, an impressive Claire Blennerhasset, into allowing him to take her daughter Margaret, a delightful Karen Kelly, to a dance. Already, themes of clashing opposites are emerging, which the final two pieces continue to explore with much heart and humour.
The most thought-provoking, and in many senses theatrical of the quartet, The Fate Of Emergency, sees director Aoibhinn Marie Gilroy cleverly utilising a vast area of gardens to terrific effect. Here, a troubled Wittgenstein, superbly rendered by Cathal Quinn, and a troubled nun, a captivating Claire Blennerhasset, along with an impressive Cormac Melia as newspaper boy Tommy, exchange deep held secrets on a bench in 1939. Those unfamiliar with the nuances and ramifications of Hitler's Nuremberg Laws of 1935 might find this piece a little heavy-handed. But there's a backbone here that deserves further exploration, even if, in its current incarnation, its weighed down by the intensity of the ideas it attempts to address in so short, and light, a space. The final offering, Rags and Tatters, finds us squarely in the Tinder world of today, in which an endearing Karen Kelly as Molly, meets the opportunist Jimmy, another engaging performance by Dignam, for a date in the Botanic Gardens. Delightful, touching, with the best line of the day by far, Rags and Tatters rounds out an enjoyable, afternoon ramble.
Like the ghost tours of Edinburgh, “Meet Me in The Gardens” marries theatre, history, and something of the spirit of the place in a leisurely, enjoyable performance. If McCoy’s writing doesn't always smooth away all its edges, historical and otherwise, it's because it's attempting to reach as broad an audience as possible, from the very young to the more mature, which it succeeds in doing incredibly well. Aoibhinn Marie Gilroy's direction ensures everything moves at a steady, but not too hectic pace, fitting for a ramble through The Botanic Gardens. All in all, a charming way to spend a weekend afternoon.
“Meet Me in The Gardens,” by Sharon McCoy, produced by Shiva Productions, runs at the National Botanic Garden on certain days at weekends on till July 14