At the heart of Allotment is a simple, visual metaphor: the burial and later uncovering of objects in the earth that clearly mirrors the suppression and later resurrection of memories, resentments, and frustrations from the lifelong rivalry between two sisters, Dora and Maddy.
On paper it sounds rather trite, even gimmicky, given that the drama - in the grand National Theatre of Scotland tradition of ‘theatre without walls’ - is performed (regardless of the weather) on an actual allotment. But here’s the thing, it works - both practically and emotionally - as part of a touching, surprisingly dark drama that’s really rooted in its remarkably enclosed, private space.
Dora, the older sister, controls more than just the potato varieties planted every year; clearly she believes that Maddy, quite possibly left with learning difficulties after a childhood accident, requires almost constant supervision. Innate sibling rivalry and mutual annoyances notwithstanding, both their lives have become as entwined as the fruit, vegetables, and weeds in their little plot of land.
We learn little about the outside world, not even about Dora and Maddy’s parents, but then that would be as distracting as the unreachable boys in the nearby school glimpsed by the characters early on from the roof the allotment hut. (Given that Inverleith Allotments are across the road from Tony Blair’s old school, Fettes, this is a detail that helps root the story in the here and now). This is perhaps the most wonderfully unexpected facet of Allotment; despite being staged in the open air, with all the sensory consequences that come from that decision, this feels like a remarkably enclosed drama, focusing on two people increasingly trapped by — and yet reliant upon — their mutual dependency.
This is a sharp, emotionally concise script — ably and energetically performed by Nicola Jo Cully and Pauline Goldsmith — that, unlike some site-specific work, fully benefits from its unexpected location. The free cup of tea and cream scone handed out at the start was also a nice touch, potentially lulling the audience into expecting a lighter drama than they actually received. Just one thing, Edinburgh: it really doesn’t reflect well on those of you who complained that the tea wasn’t Earl Grey.