This short, sharp play from Polish writer Magdalena Miecznicka concerns the aftermath of an affair between wealthy English guy John (David Sturzaker), and Aga (Olivia Le Anderson), a younger Eastern European woman in a poorly paid hotel job.
When Aga’s husband got wind of said affair, John abruptly cut it off, fearful that his identity would be discovered and his wife would find out. Now, sometime later, the two have met up to talk. Aga is now a single mum, and at first it appears that the agenda is for the two of them to pick over what happened and for her to express her frustration and hurt at him ending it so tersely and self-servingly.
It’s ultimately a play about power imbalances, and how the affair may have the appearance of equality, but how hugely far apart in station Aga and John ultimately are in a society run by wealth.
Which sounds kind of worthy, but it all gets vastly juicier when Aga declares she is going to blackmail John into buying a flat for her and her two children.
She doesn’t play the femme fatale: she’s angry, but also makes a perfectly rational point - their affair has cost her everything, and John nothing; more to the point, John can well afford to buy her a flat. So why shouldn’t he? His essential argument is that while he could, it’s simply not done, and moreover he doesn’t have to. From Aga’s point of view, he has used her, sharing a life with her in secret but refusing to even admit the possibility of responsibility towards her.
‘Nineteen Gardens’ is fraught with allegorical meaning: the refusal of the rich to help the poor, the West to help the East, how society is not truly equal. It’s also undoubtedly about how men are bastards.
Alice Hamilton’s production is clearly made on something of a budget and is pretty static, while Miecznicka’s text isn’t overly dramatic - it feels like about a third of the play is the two of them shooting the shit after Aga has made her ultimatum. But it’s well performed and has a brevity that makes up for its lack of dynamism – and the ideas it throws out are deliciously provocative.