Small Wonder, The Palm House

Review in Issue 18-1 | Spring 2006

The Palm House is set inside a glorious old glasshouse in a country park: ‘very much a site-specific piece’ say Small Wonder (Charlie Morrissey, Graeme Gilmour and Paul Harrington), who claim inspiration from the building – symbol of a human relationship with nature. They are joined in this installation/performance by three women: Annie Pui Ling Lok, Jenny Tattersall and Lindsey Butcher.

Small Wonder take on a lot thematically in this production: there’s death, decay and regeneration; man’s constant need to control nature; the balance of power of the elements; and the issue of climate change. It’s a piece rich in sensory imagery – not only sights but sounds and smells too. Sometimes it is hard to work out what is real and what isn’t. We enter the space and stand around the edges of an enormous bed of mulch, poked at occasionally by a moody-looking gardener. The smell of the soil is surely real but is there really a parrot in here, or was that part of the soundscape? We are treated to a series of wonderful images: bodies emerging from the soil; a forest of bamboo sticks gathered up by a woman growing ever more desperate in her need to hang on to her harvest; standing bodies soaked in a sudden (real, wet water!) downpour; telescoped trees unfolding from the ground; a walk across a path of outstretched hands; a cacophony of fireworks (courtesy of the World Famous company) erupting all around the outside of the glasshouse, making us feel like we are in the epicentre of an electrical storm. But it is the simplest things that are the most effective: a final image of a row of sparklers on burial mounds is wonderful. As an activated installation, The Palm House is fantastic – as a piece of theatre, it’s a little shaky in its dramaturgy (and the dramaturg inside me shrieked ‘Why?’ on many occasions throughout the evening). So a qualified success – but a qualified success from artists as gifted as Small Wonder can still make for an interesting and enriching experience, and there was much to enjoy and appreciate in this piece.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue

Stanmer Park

Date Seen
  1. Oct 2005

This article in the magazine

Issue 18-1
p. 25