The Little Gardener at Greenwich Fair review – ‘earnest and inspired’
Emily Hughes’ The Little Gardener is beautiful and thoroughly enticing, with an international fan following. In its attempt to honour the original book, young Luton-based company How It Ended is earnest and inspired, though this production may not be the ideal first port of call for those not familiar with Hughes’ work.
Most striking about the show is James Lewis’ meticulous installation-like set – a glass capsule in which the Little Gardener’s world is brought to life by puppeteer Peter Hobday, and which the audience mostly peer into at a distance from the outside. Within a gallery space this would be a poignant oasis, but outdoors, some of the potential effect is drowned out. Additionally, director Eva Sampson has chosen to focus on non-narrative detail, emphasising the use of sound effects and Darren Clark’s beguiling score.
The Little Gardener toils and struggles silently against the elements within his world, on an allegorical journey. Towards the end, the children are invited to interact with the space and actually plant real flowers inside it. This act is powerful and memorable but somewhat out of character with the tone of the show before and after it, which causes some confusion about the piece’s terms of engagement.
All in all, this is a noble and courageous attempt to teach children the importance of care, but it raises unnecessary communication barriers in pursuit of artistic excellence.