Nineteen Gardens by MIECZNICKA CAST Olivia Le Andersen as Aga; David Sturzaker as John; CREATIVE Directed by Alice Hamilton; Designed by Sarah Beaton; Lighting by Jamie Platt; Sound by Max Pappenheim; Shot at Hampstead Downstairs , Hampstead Theatre, London, UK on 03.11.23 By Richard Lakos of The Other Richard. COPYRIGHT: The Other Richard/ArenaPAL

Nineteen Gardens


After one and half years, two lovers meet up again.  At first it is unclear why they are bothering, but that is the premise of the play, for us to find out. Through clever interchange between the two, we see a shift in their relationship, one that disturbs us. While the information in the programme sheet tells us ‘both recognise the spark between them is still there’, I felt no such spark (and I think this is intentional), just a clinical coldness between them. This is reflected in the stark set, three walls lit with pink and white (and sometimes blue) electric lighting which occasionally buzzes to signify a shift in their conversation.

The focus is on the couple. Aga is a chambermaid  John is a rich business man.  Their Pinteresque dialogue is sharp and crisp in this pared down production with its words describing feelings, rather than us seeing much real physical or emotional connection. The crux of the matter is referred to by Aga as she brings up inequality. He sees sex as ‘a gift of herself’. She tells him of her job with such details as the filled condoms left on the pillow with a £10 tip underneath it. His life is one of ‘dinners after dinners’, hers of the difficulty in choosing whether to take the bus or tube in order to save £1.80.

Without giving away too much of the plot, this is a reunion between them, but one with a purpose, his sexual, hers financial. Their relationship is by no means equal, and  the play involves clever turns  so we are unsure who will come out on top. She is overreaching, he is arrogant in the way only rich powerful men can be. In the end, you dislike them both for what they demand of each other. But the play is making an important point. Essentially, it is a comment about housing, the disparity between rich and poor. Aga has to live in a small squalid flat with her two young sons, John has a lovely huge house. Only nineteen gardens separate them.

These type of plays based purely based around dialogue don’t usually grab me, but this was so smart it intrigues. Cleverly performed by Olivia Le Anderson and David Sturzaker who both have command of their performances, the playwright Magdalena Miecznicka deftly leads us through their lives, their needs and desires. This is not a play about lost love as I thought it might be, but a sad condemnation of the world of inequality – between the sexes, as much as between the rich and poor.