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Nights in the Garden of Spain & Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet, Bridge Theatre review - potent mix of pain and comedy | reviews, news & interviews

Nights in the Garden of Spain & Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet, Bridge Theatre review - potent mix of pain and comedy

Nights in the Garden of Spain & Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet, Bridge Theatre review - potent mix of pain and comedy

Essential series of Alan Bennett stage pairings comes to an end

Sublime stillness: Tamsin Greig as Rosemary in 'Nights in the Garden of Spain'London Theatre Company /Zac Nicholson/BBC

Stillness works like a stealth bomb in Nights in the Garden of Spain, in which Tamsin Greig further confirms her status as one of this country's finest actresses.

Kicking off the final pairing in an indispensable series of Alan Bennett double bills at the Bridge Theatre that will be greatly missed once they depart our midst at the end of this month, Greig reprises the role of the softly spoken Rosemary that she first performed on the BBC this summer; her stage successor on this occasion is Maxine Peake's boisterous Miss Fozzard. 

But such was the mesmeric effect of Greig, hands clasped and leaning towards us when we first see her, that come the gently blistering conclusion of the piece, I was ready to watch it all over again. Bennett's proven admixture of the mundane and the kinky/grotesque/perverse can every so often feel a bit gerrymandered as if straining for effect but never for a second here. As Rosemary recounts her developing friendship with a neighbour called Fran who has shot her husband dead, you feel this kind, indrawn woman peeling away the various layers of herself, as well.

Maxine Peake as Alan Bennett's Miss FozzardThat rare performer who can couple hilarity and pathos in a single moment (Greig is absolutely made to order for Chekhov), the actress locates the mordant humour in Rosemary's hesitancy about when to call 999 and what, in fact, constitutes an actual emegency. But as we hear more of the horrors Fran has endured at the hands of her now-murdered husband, the piece gathers an unobtrusive weight. Rosemary may chafe at media descriptions of the case as "the real face of suburbia" but here, as elsewhere, Bennett writes with piercing eloquence about the real human need for companionship and compassion, the second of would appear never to be found in marriage. 

The emphasis on gardens and gardening lands the narrative in a seemingly cosy, familiar milieu that is in fact nothing of the sort, as Rosemary realises in a different context once she notes the prevalence of criminals (murderers included) in the sun-dappled Spain that functions here as a mock-Eden. Come the final scene (and sporting a telling change of clothes), Rosemary has at least found climatic warmth but at the price of a connection felt with thje imprisoned Fran that has proven very fleeting indeed. It's not just gardens that need watering, the director Marianne Elliott's beautifully observed treatment of the piece reminds us; the human spirit does too, and as Rosemary recedes from view, a becalmed landscape by then casts a real chill. 

By contrast, Maxine Peake (pictured above) all but yanks the audience to their feet with her giddy, high-octane occupancy (a turn, really) of a part originated decades back by Bennett veteran Patricia Routledge, whom Peake here sounds uncannily like at times. Once again, the terrain is of fetishism and malfeasance lying a mere plate or two away from his characters' custard creams. Miss Fozzard, though, is unusual within Bennett's canon for exiting her story in a more fulfilled place than where she entered it. Only Imelda Staunton's wildly self-deluded Irene Ruddock in A Lady of Letters comes close to embracing happiness, whatever that word may mean to the person speaking it. 

Sure, there might well be a term to describe what this straight-talking soft furnishings employee has become. But "prostitute" isn't in the capacious lexicon of Miss Fozzard, who cracks jokes about Pearl Harbor when not tending to her stroke-ridden brother, Bernard, who can speak to singular transactional relationships of his own. Sarah Frankcom's production plants several pairs of shoes around the stage so that Miss Fozzard can choose the appropriate footwear for any given moment. In marked contrast to the constrained, often-sedentary lives that have preceded her during this sequence of monologues, one thing's for sure: here's someone on the move. 




'Finest actors' will do, please. There are times when the word 'actress' might be necessary, but this isn't one ot them.

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