Review: The Cement Garden, Vault Festival

“Thing is pet, maybe you’re better on your own”

Under the cement and brick of Waterloo lies The Cement Garden, an interpretation of Ian McEwan’s highly regarded novel which is one of the centrepieces of the six week Vault Festival. Adapted by David Aula and Jimmy Osborne, it tells the disturbing story of what happens when four children are orphaned and end up retreating from society rather than notifying the authorities they believe would split them up.

Aula, who also directs, has chosen a deliberately varied and theatrical approach to the production. So the youngest child Tom is played by the oldest man in the cast, David Annen who manipulates a puppet boy. But the central couple of the two oldest kids, Jack and Julie, are played with an exceptionally punchy, naturalistic force by Ruby Bentall and BAFTA Rising Star Award nominee George MacKay.

Their relationship, characterised by a warped sexuality that neither can control – he’s constantly jacking off in the bathroom, she wields a potent flirtatiousness with scant regard for the consequences – is the driving force of the narrative. But the way in which the play is staged also has a lot to say. The audience is kept uncomfortable on slender benches up close to the playing space, rightly never letting us sit easily in this ever-darkening tale.

And split on two levels, the long narrow stage sees the action fragmented in time and space. The story is framed by a narrative device involving an older Tom, movement sequences are used strikingly to evoke a palpable sense of sunsoaked irresponsibility and the restricted angles are used cleverly to conceal as much as to convey as the tone darkens. Experimental and adventurous – not everything necessarily comes off but this production seems to capture the spirit of this festival perfectly.

Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 8th March

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