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Emily Steel on her latest play 'The Garden'

Tuesday, 03 October 2023
4 min read
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The Garden will show at Adelaide Festival Centre Wednesday 11 October to Saturday 14 October.

What inspired you to write The Garden? 

I’d written a short piece for Theatre Republic’s first Future:Present, about a middle-class, environmentally conscious character tying himself in knots trying to be seen to do the right thing. One of the things he did was grow vegetables in a community garden. And then Corey (McMahon, director of The Garden) and I got talking about climate change and inequality, and whether there was a way of looking at these big issues, theatrically, in a more human way. What if, we thought, we put a couple of very different people in a local community garden…? 

Can you tell us a bit about the characters in the play? 

The play has two characters, Adam and Evelyn. Evelyn is a busy mum who is the volunteer coordinator of a community garden. Adam is a refugee, fairly new to Australia, who is looking to join the garden. They are both flawed, both a little blinkered, both capable of cruelty and kindness. They have different perspectives on the world, different experiences of it, and because of this each of them behaves in ways that, at times, hurts the other. But they’re also warm and funny and often well-meaning. My hope is that our audiences find it hard to pick a side. 

What challenges did you face while writing and rehearsing the play? 

It’s been uncomfortable! It was uncomfortable to write and it’s sometimes uncomfortable to watch in rehearsal. Because it’s looking at racism and sexism and class and community, and it’s showing characters saying the wrong things and doing the wrong things. It’s nerve-wracking putting that in front of an audience, but for me theatre is about looking at the difficult stuff, the stuff that we often avoid looking at or talking about in everyday life. I’m lucky to be working with a courageous and supportive company, and from the first development Rashidi and Lizzie and Corey and I were able to talk the tricky things through. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing the play?  

In a recent interview with InReview about The Garden, actor Rashidi Edward said that the play “makes you see these big questions and doesn’t answer them for you. You don’t go back home all comfortable. You get to look at your life, yourself, and how you conduct your everyday life, which is a beautiful thing.” That’s what I want for audiences.

I want them to laugh, and to think, and to argue with each other afterwards. I love a bit of healthy disagreement. 

— Emily Steel

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