Planting the Dunk Botanic Gardens [FringeTIX]
Big Toe Productions @ Holden Street Theatres (The Arch)
2:00pm, Sat 28 Feb 2009
It’s an oddball sort of description for a play: “Mark O’Connor’s passionate fight to plant an Eden on Dunk, challenged by time, cyclones and fellow man.” In retrospect, I have no idea why this even made the shortlist; I suspect it was due to my confidence that Holden Street wouldn’t let me down when it came to quality theatre.
I needn’t have worried.
With an audience that looked more likely to be watching Gardening Australia than a Fringe matinee, there’s an amusing little slideshow as the lights drop, informing us to switch off our mobile phones – lest they be mulched. And then David Malikoff takes to the stage; his is a quiet, yet potent and dignified presence, and he begins to tell the tale of the Dunk Island “Botanic” Gardens.
His initial spiel mentions the three Gardeners of Dunk: Ted Banfield, who essentially inspired development on the island; Mark O’Connor, the author of the play (present in the audience) and a one-time resort gardener on Dunk; and God as the ultimate gardener. This lead me to think that there would, then, be three acts to the performance, focusing on each of the Gardeners in turn (potentially leading to some unwanted religious pouting in the third act); this was not the case, however, as we are only privy to the work of O’Connor in the transformation of the Island’s resort gardens into exotic havens.
At times, it devolves into plant-centric technobabble – incomprehensible to me, but strangely compelling and soothingly rhythmic. But the occasional slideshow (beautiful flora!) with lovely soft jazz-esque background music breaks things up, and there’s plenty of other characters at the resort to provide both comic relief and conflict; the tale becomes a battle with both man and Mother Nature, with O’Connor’s final day on the island one of frantic planting and passing on of ideals.
It’s a polished production: a gripping story, plenty of laughs, and Malikoff is fantastic narrating O’Connor’s tale. As I mentioned above, I’ve no idea why I shortlisted this one (since my green thumb is actually a gangrene thumb) – but I’m glad I did.