Debauched with the wind: Griffin Independent & Sisters Grimm’s Summertime in the Garden of Eden

Imagine Gone With The Wind. Now add hanging baskets of flowers, biblical allusions to Eden, a dash of gender-blind casting. Throw caution to the wind, stir, and perform. Only then might you come close to Sisters Grimm’s Summertime in the Garden of Eden, currently playing at Griffin Theatre. It’s gloriously colourful, a riot of stereotypes and clichés, a relentless assault on the Southern (as opposed to the Western), and it’s an absolute treat.
Written by Ash Flanders and Declan Greene (the Sisters Grimm), Summertime in the Garden of Eden is a melodrama in the fullest sense of the genre, gloriously played to the hilt but never to excess. Performed in their home-cultivated brand of “queer DIY drag-theatre” (as perfected in their previous shows), the Sisters Grimm are a pair of cult theatre-makers with imaginations that would make Lewis Carroll blush. A bit like a pantomime and a gender-blind costume drama, it is a ridiculous amount of fun, even if beneath its ludicrously homemade aesthetic lies the uncomfortable an unavoidable reality of the gender, race, sexuality, and cultural-political issues of the Southern. Skewing and perhaps ridiculing them whilst simultaneously drawing attention to them makes for unsettling viewing, but the relish and delight with which the cast play out the story is enough to make you forget the sting of the play’s subject.

The cast are all superb. Agent Cleave as Daisy May doesn’t so much move as glide across the stage, his long black hair and beard a glorious contrast to the dress and crinoline he wears.  Olympia Bukkakis’ Honey Sue is frequently alarming in her portrayal of a Southern vixen, and her song and dance moment, to Savage Garden’s ‘The Animal Song’ is every bit disturbing as it is surreal and entertaining. As Big Daddy, Bessie Holland plays every stereotype and cliché at one point or another, yet manages to make the character seem like a person not a caricature. As Clive, the anti-hero love-interest, Peter Paltos is played with relish and wickedness, his delight and verve palpable; dressed in a navy blue jacket and sweat pants with a gold lamé sash, he cuts the rather dashing image of the Confederate solider he plays. As Mammy, Genevieve Giuffre is outstanding, the double-event of her character every bit as ingenious and outrageous as anything the Sisters Grimm could come up with. Marg Horwell’s outstanding set – a bed of white feathery cotton set against a painted backdrop of a Southern sunset, there are various chairs, a gold fountain, tables which are all discarded as soon as they are not needed, dumped in the back corner with ruthless abandon. The hanging flower baskets, fully deployed at the last moment, lend an even more surreal air to the already-surreal aesthetic. Russell Goldsmith’s lush Max Steiner-esque score and sound design, along with Katie Sfetkidis’ lighting, complete the illusion and create a wholly diverting and entertaining show.
At sixty-five minutes, the show is well-paced, fast, funny, frequently outrageous and never dull. The final production at Griffin this year, it is an absolute treat, and is perhaps the closest thing to a Christmas pantomime you’ll find this side of William Street. Not since Belvoir’s As You Like It in 2011 has there been a more perfectly enjoyable and deliciously chaotic show to end the year on. I don't think I'll ever look at Gone With The Wind in quite the same way again. Highly recommended.

Theatre playlist: 36. Tara Theme – Main Title, Max Steiner

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