Peter Nichols has said, in no uncertain terms, that the theatre community has been shunning him for decades. After seeing Creative Cow’s gem at the Rosemary Branch, I can’t for the life of me work out why. It’s tragic, it’s hilarious, it’s even vicious and asphyxiating somehow, and, as the best thing on the fringe this year heads out on a national tour, I’d like to give the playwright a good shake and tell him it’s exactly what this industry needs.
Katherine Senior as Maud in Born in the Gardens at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, London (previous picture shows Edward Ferrow as Maurice)
Set in a mock Tudor living room in Bristol, 1979, his heroine Maud is a potty, recently widowed housewife, who knows where the drinks cabinet is. With her husband barely dead (in fact his coffin sits in the background during the first act), she surrounds herself with her family, made up of one son who is an obsessive hermit who talks to cats, one son who is an MP, and a daughter with incestuous urges who lives in Malibu. It doesn’t take long for the gloves to come off.
Nichols’ vituperative text is full of the era’s bigotry - including casual racism about famine and paranoia about the welfare state - and it’s fiendishly funny. But none of it would work without the cast’s outstanding performances. With Edward Ferrow as mummy’s boy Maurice, Rachel Howells as the neurotic Queenie, Jonathan Parish as snotty politician Hedley and Katherine Senior as the barmy Maud, they form the perfect dysfunctional family, if, in fact, such a thing can exist. Regardless, it’s “super-duper” as Maude would put it, and it belongs on a big stage in the West End.