Old Herbaceous, The Coach House Theatre, Malvern

THE most comfortable night I have ever spent at the theatre was whilst watching Old Herbaceous at the Coach House Theatre in Malvern this week.

A production so warm and welcoming that it could have been a fireside chat with my late grandfather.

Written by Reginald Arkell and adapted for the stage by Alfred Shaughnessy, this splendidly produced one-man play is set within the ageing greenhouse of a country estate during the early 1970s.

The history of the garden, its owners, employees and the local village are brought to life for us by Herbert Pinnegar, the head gardener.

Mr Pinnegar is now an old man, but stories of his apprenticeship, promotion, romance and responsibility are woven through a backdrop of two world wars and the changing fortunes of both servant and gentry.

The packed audiences may well have had similar gardening experiences as they chuckled knowingly through anecdotes of slug-catching, county shows and cultivating early strawberries, but even a relative novice as myself found much to enjoy amidst the shrubbery.

The beautifully detailed set, a brick-based wooden greenhouse, was dressed with all manner of ancient watering cans, seed-trays, pots, postcards and gardening implements, and the lighting so subtle that I could almost feel the sunrise and sunset in this man’s horticultural career.

Of course all of this would count for nothing without a splendid central performance, and that was delivered most beautifully by Dave Danson. A large man with a large beard to match, I could have been forgiven for expecting the bluster of a Brian Blessed, but instead his mellow chuckles and softness of touch wrapped around the audience like a warm blanket. I’m sure this is how Santa Claus must spend the rest of his year.

Congratulations to Mr Danson, Danson Productions and the Coach House Theatre. More of this please.

George Hope

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