Written by Alfred Shaughnessy
Directed by Simon Downing
Herbert Pinnegar - Giles Shenton
Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016
Royal Horticultural Society Arts Festival 2016
Festival of Gardens North Wales 2018
National Gardening Week 2018
Evesham Festival of Words 2018
18 Feb 2016 Phoenix Theatre, Bordon, Hants
20 Feb 2016 Phoenix Theatre, Bordon, Hants
28 Feb 2016 Vera Fletcher Hall, Thames Ditton, Surrey
10 June 2016 Quay Theatre, Sudbury, Suffolk
16 July 2016 RHS, Wisley, Surrey
12 Aug 2016 Byre Theatre, St Andrews, Scotland
20 Aug 2016 Brunton Theatre, Edinburgh
17 Sept 2016 Stables Theatre, Great Comp, Kent
24 Sept 2016 Brighton Open Air Theatre, Brighton (OA)
15 Oct 2016 Nomad Theatre, East Horsley, Surrey
21 Oct 2016 Fisher Theatre, Bungay, Suffolk
3 Feb 2017 Hangar Farm Arts Centre, Hants
4 Feb 2017 Players Theatre, Thame, Oxon
11 Feb 2017 Cygnet Theatre, Exeter, Devon
25 Mar 2017 North Nibley Hall, Glos
1 Apr 2017 Oxenhall Hall, Glos
5 May 2017 Manor Pavilion Theatre, Sidmouth, Devon
18 May 2017 Stables Theatre, Great Comp, Kent ***SOLD OUT***
20 May 2017 Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, Surrey
28 May 2017 Barn Theatre, Smallhythe Place, Kent ***SOLD OUT***
10 June 2017 Box Hill, Surrey (OA) ***SOLD OUT***
15 Jul 2017 The Amphitheatre, Waterperry Gdns, Oxon
19 Jan 2018 The Place, Bedford
26 Jan 2018 Angles Theatre, Wisbech, Cambs
08 Feb 2018 Leatherhead Theatre, Leatherhead, Surrey ***SOLD OUT***
09 Feb 2018 Wingfield Barns, Nr Diss, Suffolk
1 Mar 2018 Southwold Arts Centre, Southwold, Suffolk
24 Mar 2018 Spring Arts Centre, Havant, Hants
3 May 2018 RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate, N Yorkshire (OA)
18 May 2018 Cranleigh Arts Centre, Cranleigh, Surrey
25 May 2018 The Core at Corby Cube, Corby
9 June 2018 Caerau Gardens, Bala, N Wales (OA)
21 June 2018 Spetchley Park, Worcs (OA)
27 June 2018 Grantham Guildhall Arts Centre
1 July 2018 Evesham Festival of Words, Worcs ***SOLD OUT***
4 July 2018 Torch Theatre, Milford Haven, Wales ***SOLD OUT***
5 July 2018 Moorland Garden Hotel, Devon (OA)
8 July 2018 Loseley Park, Guildford, Surrey (OA)
12 July 2018 Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Ceredigion, Wales ***SOLD OUT***
14 July 2018 Miserden Estate, Gloucestershire (OA)
21 July 2018 Plas Cadnant, Anglesey (OA) ***SOLD OUT***
27 July 2018 Courtyard Theatre, Chipstead, Surrey
28 July 2018 Leckford Estate, Stockbridge, Hampshire (OA)
29 July 2018 Sussex Prairie Garden, East Sussex (OA)
4 Aug 2018 Cliveden House Hotel, Berks (OA)
10 Aug 2018 Avon Mill, Kingsbridge, Devon (OA) ***SOLD OUT***
11 Aug 2018 Avon Mill, Kingsbridge, Devon (OA) ***SOLD OUT***
12 Aug 2018 Burrow Farm Gardens, Devon (OA)
8 Sept 2018 Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset (OA)
19 Sept 2018 Middlesbrough Theatre, Middlesbrough
4 Oct 2018 Old Sorting Office Arts Centre, Barnes Green, London
27 Oct 2018 Betchworth Village War Memorial Hall, Surrey (in aid of Cancer Research UK) ***SOLD OUT***
1 Dec 2018 Lodsworth Hall, West Sussex ***SOLD OUT***
30 Mar 2019 Sarah Thorne Theatre, Broadstairs, Kent
6 April 2019 Worlingworth Community Centre, Suffolk ***SOLD OUT***
13 April 2019 Cotswold Playhouse, Stroud, Glos
24 April 2019 Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall, Suffolk
18 May 2019 Ralph Court Gardens, Herefordshire
19 May 2019 Picton Castle, South Wales
2 June 2019 The Mount Hotel Country Manor, Wolverhampton (OA)
7 June 2019 The Corn Hall, Diss, Norfolk
13 June 2019 The Garden House, Yelverton, Devon (OA)
15 June 2019 Litchfield Garrick Theatre, WestMids
19 June 2019 Stamford Arts Centre, Lincs
21 June 2019 Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, West Midlands
28 June 2019 South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell (OA)
29 June 2019 Leith Hill Place, Dorking, Surrey (OA)
5 July 2019 Woodcote House, Salcombe, Devon (OA)
6 July 2019 Scorrier House, Cornwall (OA)
18 July 2019 Savoy Theatre, Monmouth, Wales
21 July 2019 Batsford Arboretum, Glos (OA)
25 July 2019 Green Island Gardens, Colchester, Essex (OA)
27 July 2019 The Walled Nursery, Hawkhurst, Kent (OA)
30 July 2019 Capesthorne Hall, Cheshire (OA)
10 Aug 2019 RHS Rosemoor, Torrington, Devon
13 Aug 2019 Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, Dorset (OA)
14 Aug 2019 Seaton Jurassic Amphitheatre, Devon (OA)
15 Aug 2019 Acorn Theatre, Penzance, Cornwall
17 Aug 2019 Trebah Gardens Amphitheatre, Cornwall (OA)
18 Aug 2019 Larmer Tree Gardens, South Wiltshire (OA)
22 Aug 2019 Cryer Arts Centre, Carshalton, Surrey
24 Aug 2019 Weald and Downland Museum, Sussex (OA)
7 Sept 2019 Furzey Gardens, Hants (OA)
8 Sept 2019 The Gibberd Garden, Harlow, Essex (OA)
15 Sept 2019 The Barn Theatre, Oxted, Surrey
9 Nov 2019 Ralph Court Gardens, Herefordshire
9 Dec 2019 South Downs National Park Memorial Hall, Midhurst, Kent
(OA) = Open Air Performance
“What exactly was the factor that kept the audience riveted to Giles Shenton’s performance?
It’s a simple story: old Herbert Pinnegar has spent his life as a gardener at ‘the big house’ shares his memories with us. His interest in ﬂowers and plants was aroused with the help and encouragement of the village schoolmistress. He won ﬁrst prize in the village fair’s wild ﬂower competition, and when “My Lady” presented him with the prize and whispered to him that he won because he had carefully cut the ﬂowers, not simply yanked them out of the ground as others had: thus began his lifelong devotion to plants, and to her. All the village boys were destined to work on the land, but Herbert refused: fortunately he was taken on as an apprentice by Captain and Mrs. Charteris at the Big House. We hear of Herbert’s ﬁrst day at work and his gradual rise up the ranks within the garden until eventually he becomes head gardener, addressed as “Mr Pinnegar”.
A few useful gardening tips are slipped in among his stories. He learned a valuable lesson about the ﬁckleness of women at an early age, and we gradually realise his mute adoration of ‘my lady’, who values his worth as a gardener, appreciates the things he does for her and his refusal to be seduced away from ‘his’ garden by the lure of higher wages elsewhere, but almost certainly sees him as ‘just a gardener’. Mrs Charteris’ health gradually declines, the estate has to be sold, but he is not thrown out of his tied cottage, as might be expected: the new owners have agreed to let Herbert stay in his cottage as long as he needs it. We leave Herbert sitting with his memories as the light slowly fades…
This is a simple, low-key, elegiac piece, yearning for a long-lost way of life: Giles Shenton draws us into his world from his ﬁrst entrance. The set is a pretty realistic greenhouse: Herbert potters about among the plants, pots and other paraphernalia, washing ﬂower pots, potting on plants, drinking from his ﬂask of tea, and chatting as he does so, and we are held entranced from start to ﬁnish. The piece doesn’t have bells, whistles, or ﬁreworks, but it is a nostalgic, quietly satisfying evening spent with someone who creates an instant rapport with the audience, drawing us into his world and making the characters in it so real we feel you have known them forever.
The audience were loud and enthusiastic in their applause.
Adapted by Alfred Shaughnessy from Reginald Arkell’s novel of the same name, Old Herbaceous is an hour and a half of sheer delight. Upon entering the theatre we are greeted at our seats by a small packet of seeds and, with that, the scene is set for the heartfelt story to unfold. From there we meet the quietly loveable Herbert, as he reminisces about his seemingly ordinary life as a gardener on a large country estate.
The stage set as a gloriously normal garden shed and this is where all the action happens. Plants and pots strewn around the place, hooks to hang hat and overcoats, a little chair and a flask of tea. It is quaint, familiar and entirely believable, you really do feel like you are watching a man in his own garden shed. There are even times we can actually smell the plants, creating a scene which is evocative and immersive throughout.
A one man show, Old Herbaceous himself guides us through the quietly twisting and turning story that is his life. Herbert, as he’d rather be known, potters around his garden shed for the duration, sipping tea and potting plants. His story starts back before the Second World War and his very humble beginnings in life and travels right up until he is the old man in his garden shed that we see before us. Visiting village fetes, first jobs, the Chelsea Flower Show and Torquay along the way.
Giles Shenton is superb as the title character, completely captivating, he has the audience’s attentions and imaginations throughout. It is a testament to both the writing and Shenton’s abilities that an hour and a half of watching a man talk to himself is so engaging. Shenton is incredibly emotive in his performance and this really resonates with the story being told.
There is a slight change in tone over the second half. With everything that went before it rhetorical within its audience interaction, questions feeling as if they were asked to the character by the character. However, after the short interval questions are posed directly to the audience and small pieces of plant are passed around for everyone to experience. Although the sensory interaction is a very welcome, it does feel a bit jarring within the monologue structure of the piece.
This lovingly created production is a joy to watch. Sad at times, it unexpectedly twists into a quiet love story of sorts. A delightful tale, beautifully told, Old Herbaceous is a treat to watch and not just for garden lovers.
“One very talented actor, Giles Shenton, keeps us engrossed, entertained, amused and emotionally engaged for an hour and a half as a gardener in a potting shed... who knew that would work?
A wonderful production: funny, emotional, touching, instructive: as it's been dubbed: "Downton Abbey with gardening tips" (and some cookery ones too!)... and an acute and sometimes hilarious observation of relationships between the classes in a gentler, simpler age.
Herbert Pinnegar (“Old Herbaceous”) reminisces & tells us his life story, man and foundling boy; from his transformation, as a “no-hoper” school boy with a gammy leg, to Head Gardener and on to the dizzy heights of officiating for the RHS! All this under the tender, but ever class-conscious protection and encouragement of his employer, his “ dear lady”, Mrs Charteris forever remembered, cherished and though never actually said, loved from his boyhood as, “the laughing lady in white, who gave me my first chance”. Herbert recounts his transformations and epiphany moments through his times as a lowly gardener’s boy, to under gardener and then to the responsibilities of managing people as Head Gardener; all of these he treats with a gentle good humour and plenty of endearing country common sense.
The piece is sprinkled with witticisms and epithets, a gentle humour, all much in the traditionally understated English style of the early 20th century. Yet many of these are timeless: “A garden is like life itself: full of good and evil”; “You can’t be angry for long... not in a garden.” The tender care of plants is almost a euphemism for the nourishing of our relationships. A simple, but most effective and accurate set transforms the piece, with sensitive and expressive lighting. I could almost smell the compost and twine.
Giles Shenton truly lives the part and really does make us all feel it’s a private chat from a bygone and comforting age and that we leave all the better for having listened to his shared experiences, with a feeling that all’s right with the world.
This wonderful production deserves a much wider audience and a long run! The end of the piece, where though never spoken aloud, his true feelings are revealed, is one of the most moving I have seen in a long time... take your hanky!”
Theatre in Wales
The Senedd expended some effort this last winter on the issue of money for the arts beyond state support. One submission among the consultation documents pointed to the base economics of performance. The challenge is to amortise the high up-front costs of preparation- commissioning, rehearsal- across as many performances as feasible. The curious making of pop-up theatre turns this law of economics on its head.
Kick in the Head has a lean overhead, comprising Simon Downing, Giles Shenton and Andrew Brewis. Their production of “Old Herbaceous”, a script by Alfred Shaughnessy from Reginald Arkell's 1950 novel, premiered in 2016. It will play 75 performances over the course of 2018. Aberystwyth's studio is well filled, the audience more than three times larger than that at Aberaeron a week previously. At the Torch an actor from Walton-on-Thames sold out the studio. Kick in the Head's public subsidy is a nice round number, being £0.00.
The author Andrea Wulf, originally from Hamburg, was astonished on her arrival here at the relationship of Britain with its gardens. “I could not believe how obsessed the British were with their gardens” she said and went on to write “the Brother Gardeners”, a study of the makers of our gardens. Only in our culture has the greenhouse been made the subject of great art. In 1935 Eric Ravilious painted his luminous “the Greenhouse, Cyclamen and Tomatoes.”
“Old Herbaceous” is set in a greenhouse, the private domain of the aged gardener, Herbert Pinnegar. The design is both simple and elaborate, comprising a hundred-plus workaday items that are a gardener's necessities. Spade and rake, metal jug and ewer feature. Giles Shenton, in corduroy trousers, cap and apron, pots his seedlings, whets his knife, paints the leaves of plants. In an earlier time plain soap and water were used for protection. He wipes his forehead and rosy cheeks in the warmth under glass.
The company has gifted us a pack of seeds apiece to be found on every seat. Shenton plucks some leaves from the scented geraniums. He hands them to the front row, asks us to pass them on, to admire the scents of lemon and orange.
And he talks, relating the course of a life in its simple entirety. Herbert Pinnegar has not been dealt the best of advantages. A foundling child he has a leg condition that prevents military service when the call comes in 1939. Barely into teenagehood he presents himself at the Manor in Fairfield- the setting is Gloucestershire- for enrolment as an under-gardener. His hair, as was the fashion, is slicked with vaseline. From then the script breathes flowers. Herbert recalls mimulus, sweet rocket, begonia, lily of the valley. His technique with early strawberries awes the gentry whom he serves.
The years as under-gardener are those of work. Pinnegar comes to see in the garden a small simulacrum of the world itself. The foes are constant in the form of blight, weed and nettle. He shows us his own weapon against the ever-chomping slugs, a half-orange. With time he ascends to head gardener. He is pressed against his inclination to be judge at a county show. He is obliged to make a public speech at the show which he carries off with naïve aplomb. The once-foundling is startled to find he has made a mention in the newspaper.
Beyond the garden is an older Britain. On elevation to his role of authority he is challenged. Pinnegar dissects the nature of the challenge and sees it off some guile. He observes the social stratification that plays out at the Chelsea Show. The gardeners are finely turned out, their employers always a few feet ahead are in their uniform of aged tweeds. The tension between classes runs throughout. Pinnegar and his employer, the prematurely widowed Mrs Charteris, are as bonded in general care for the garden as they are regularly divided over daily practice. But the bond in common persists to dementia and death. Maybe there is an allegorical meaning to be had for our times of fractiousness. But a good script flowers in rich detail.
At the end the lighting closes in on the face and grows ever paler before extinction. Pinnegar, a man from another age, becomes a kind of Everyman. His has been a life that has seen the world narrowly but narrowness does not preclude being in it deeply, and feeling it knowingly.
Theatre itself is a richly flowered garden; the competition for audience is fierce. From its reception here it is easy to see why “Old Herbaceous” will be getting those 75 performances this year.
"We just got home from Betchworth Memorial Hall where we were treated to a marvellous performance of Old Herbaceous - Giles was absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for a brilliant production of this unique story, we thoroughly enjoyed it! Well done !!!!" Pauline - Betchworth Hall performance in aid of Cancer Research
"Went to see the play 'Old Herbaceous' last night at a local garden center. My wife and I thought about going, or should I say not going, as it was a grey and overcast evening with much rain in the air and while there was a hardcover over the space the sides were open to the elements. With all that said we are so glad that we did. The play is a one-hander, one actor only, and Giles Shenton who plays Herbert Pinnager had a presence on stage that held the audience captivated. The set is simple and unfussy, as is the lighting, and this allowed the audience to get a feel for the period of the piece but also focusing our attention on the man on the stage. The story that unfolds is a simple one. Pinnager is a gardener from boyhood who gets a job working for the owners of a manor house and over the years moves up to become the head gardener. What is so engaging is that the character of Pinnager not only tells the story of his life but also gives a flavor of the lives of the people who moved around him as the years pass by. With funny anecdotes that had us all laughing out loud and an interaction with the audience that was finely balanced the story moved on very well. Threaded through all is a soft and subtle love story, gently told and very much felt. The acting was confident and at the same time measured so you felt as an audience member that you were having a conversation with the character of Pinnager rather than watching a play. The ending is very moving and I will say no more. You might have gathered from the above that we enjoyed the evening enormously and we did. If you get a chance to see this fine play then I heartily recommend that you do so. You will not be disappointed." Kevin - Avon Mill performance
"A wonderful performance last night! Much enjoyed and very moving.....thank you! Diana - Avon Mill performance
"Had front row seat for last night's Old Herbaceous at Cliveden. What a wonderful performance! Such a mixture of emotions and had me sobbing right at the end. Totally brilliant performance from Giles Shenton and had me gripped from beginning to end. Thank you." Jan - Cliveden House performance
"It was so fabulous, very moving. Thank you very much." Emma - Sussex Prairie Gardens performance
"What a brilliant evening . I was moved to tears . Thank you." Chrissie - Sussex Prairie Gardens performance
"I saw it last Friday at Chipstead and thought it was wonderful. Can only say if anyone gets the chance to see this - don't miss it! Rick - Courtyard Theatre performance
"My Mum's not been able to stop talking about the play all evening and absolutely loved it.... Frankly I can’t think of a subject more alien to my interests than gardening, but I thought it was utterly exceptional and Giles Shenton's performance so warm, engaging, and genuine. Had me captivated the whole way through. Really moving." Jaime - Loseley Park performance
"Just returned home from watching Old Herbaceous at the Moorland Garden Hotel. It was “bloody brilliant”. I have been chasing this production for years but it has never come near enough to home. The whole production was just what I had perceived and I thoroughly, thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. Well done to you all, please keep it up and bring your other productions to the Moorland Garden Hotel please, but please let me know. Many thanks." Valerie - Moorland Garden Hotel performance
"After coming to see your production of Old Herbaceous last night in Grantham, I feel compelled to write and thank you and Giles Shenton. I smiled all the way through ( second row back, on the right!) Giles' fantastic performance ( apart from the obvious moments when I welled up!) and really felt like I was chatting with an old friend/ relative. I felt an instant connection and real warmth with the character, Mr Pinnegar was absolutely charming. I will remember this play and Giles' performance always, it really struck a cord with me. Thank you, and I hope to see you again. " Emily - Grantham Arts Centre performance
"I’m just home from this, what a rare treat! Thank you SO much..." Sally - Grantham Arts Centre performance
"Wonderful performance tonight. Thank you so much." Rob - Cranleigh Arts Centre performance
"Possibly one of the most poignant, beautifully acted, heartwarming plays I have ever seen...and I have seen many! My only regret is that I didn't get the opportunity to tell Giles Shenton, in person, how utterly amazing his performance was! Outstanding." Kim - Cranleigh Arts Centre performance
BBC Radio Surrey - "really special"
BBC Radio Sussex - "Wow!.......superb!"
BBC Radio Lincolnshire - "Reminiscent of going down the allotment with your grandad….....a wonderful, wonderful evening"
BBC Radio York - "absolutely idyllic"
BBC Radio Kent - "not to be missed"
Vera Fletcher Hall 28 February 2016
Phoenix Theatre February 2016