Photo by Anete Sooda
Dave Lee’s writing debut for the stage is a delightful satire on English village life with a healthy sprinkling of intrigue and murder. ‘More mulch than murder,’ as someone later said.
The Orchidian is a verbose monologue told in direct address with considerable skill and devilish charm by William ‘Mac’ McFadzean. The story takes place within the Orangery inside the vicarage of the fictional Abbiston Fosset. ‘Mac’ plays the vicar, a devoted man of God, who happens to develop a particular prowess for growing prize-winning orchids.
The seventy-year old actor (it was his birthday the day after tonight’s performance) walked on stage in a comfy cardigan and dog collar, the very essence of a village curate. He poured himself a glass of home-brewed perry from a bottle with a rather troublesome lid and proceeds to describe his domain, the vicarage, village and surrounds, with great affection: the sunlit view through the ornate orangery windows serves as backdrop.
The stage is decorated with planters with pink, white and purple blooms staked in pots, stage left there is a wooden bench upon which sits the horticulturist’s accoutrements: fertiliser, hand tools and the like. Flipping one of those planter steps, the sort you find in gardening catalogues that turn rather neatly into a seat, he sits down and tells us with quiet dignity and a penchant for [ahem] a florid turn of phrase, just how he came to be surrounded by the best orchids in christendom.
Over the next hour this kindly grandfatherly figure tells of his calling, his secondment to The Orkneys – from where he and the play neatly derive their title – to his present position watching over his flock with an overly attentive eye as the Vicar of Abbiston Fossett. Despite having green fingers and a demonstrable proficiency with seedlings, God does not choose to bless he and his loving wife with a child. It is her sad passing years later, that will set in motion, an innocent chain of events that will lead this kindly pillar of the community, down a path to murder. But first there are the orchids to tend to and a new orchid food to trial, it has a particularly high, phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium content.
The script is erudite with meticulous detail. I defy anyone to drop the words, resolutely auto-didactically, promulgating and malfeasance, in quite such garrulous a fashion into a script and get away with it. Hat is tipped sir. Mac gives the writing rhythm and life, playfulness and embellishment, so as to have you squirming with periphrastic pleasure. The descriptions of orchid husbandry are so exacting, with all the proper Latinate names, as to have any GQT panel, hurriedly reaching for an RHS Encyclopaedia.
Part Allen Bennett Talking Heads, part Royston Vasey, The Orchidian proved to be a somewhat surprising outing from Lee, given that his writing is more normally found agitating his many followers on Twitter. The gales of laughter, in all the right places and a handful of unscripted moments of mirth provoked by quick thinking improvisation from ‘Mac’, lend credence to the fact that The Orchidian is a glorious triumph.