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Wild Longings review at Plantation Gardens, Norwich – ‘well-intentioned but rambling outdoor performance’

Claudia Barton in Wild Longings at Plantation Gardens, Norwich. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

The Norfolk and Norwich Festival has a good track record when it comes to staging creative, location-responsive outdoor work. This well-intentioned but rambling and daffy garden tour is, however, not a good example of this.

Taking place in Norwich’s beautiful Plantation Garden, with its flint walls, follies and fountains, the audience meanders in the company of some jolly gardener-environmentalists.

Our first guide, Helen Paris, urges us to commune with our surroundings, to caress and connect with the plants. Throughout this she repeatedly addresses us as: “My petals.”

We’re given headphones but for the most part these are totally unnecessary, only serving to amplify the performers’ voices – as well as their whispering to one another. There’s nothing resembling a narrative and the audio element is never really explored. In fact the use of headphones runs counter to the idea of conserving resources and treading lightly as we go.

Next we’re sent off to find a space to sit and soak up our surroundings while a young company member earnestly addresses us about plastics and climate change, her fears for the future. The most interesting section is when our other guide, Leslie Hill, discusses the devastation of the dustbowl in the 1930s, the loss of topsoil and its impact on the environment.

Then we’re back on the lawn for a selection of foraged snacks – it turns out Japanese knotweed is quite tasty – and a scrappy cabaret set from Claudia Barton, who munches on nettles and sings ditties about flowers before launching into a protest song we are all invited to join in.

Everyone’s hearts are clearly in the right place and the garden is a lovely place to while away an hour, but as a theatrical experience this is insubstantial as a dandelion.

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Verdict
Well-intentioned but rambling garden tour with audio elements foraged snacks and protest songs
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