The Chalk Garden by Enid Bagnold. It is simplistic to describe it as a Comedy Drama – in reality, it is a beautifully-written and thoughtful drama disguised as a drawing room comedy.
Mrs. St. Maugham lives in her substantial but faded manor house by the sea in Sussex, where the garden is composed of lime and chalk. She is taking care of her teenage grandchild, Laurel, who has been setting fires. Miss Madrigal, an expert gardener, is hired as a governess, despite her lack of references. Also in the household is a valet, Maitland, who has just been released from a five-year sentence in prison. Olivia, Laurel’s mother, who has remarried, arrives for a visit. When the Judge comes to the house for lunch, he reveals that he had sentenced Miss Madrigal to jail for murder… Recently revived to acclaim on the West End in 2008, this psychological chamber piece explores the secret world of childhood through the prism of a dyed-in-the-wool British dowager Mrs. St. Maugham and her precocious and equally eccentric granddaughter Laurel. When the enigmatic Miss Madrigal is hired as household companion and manager, the two finally meet their match. Revived several times on Broadway and in the West End, a film version appeared in 1964, starring Edith Evans, Deborah Kerr, Hayley Mills and John Mills. Angela Lansbury was due to appear in a Broadway revival in June 2017, but has just backed out because (unsurprisingly!) she feels that can’t cope with the prospect of having to play 8 performances a week at the age of 91.
“Enid Bagnold’s The Chalk Garden opened in London in 1956, just a few weeks before John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger… More than half a century on, it now seems the greater play. Indeed… this half-forgotten, dust-encrusted drama looks like a true 20th-century masterpiece.” ~ Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph, 2008
“A tantalizing, fascinating and stimulating piece of theatre.” ~ New York Daily News
“This endearing play never seems to age, perhaps because its characters are written with such wit and brittle cleverness…It is a fragile, gossamer-winged play…”~ Rex Reed, Chicago Tribune, 1971
“…Enid Bagnold’s splendidly crafted well made play (and this term is used with no pejorative intent) is delightful to the ear. Gems of lines emerge on balance from almost every character at regular intervals, and each scene has its own, delightful, curtain line. This is a thinking man and woman’s drawing room comedy with explorations of mother daughter relations, class distinctions, and marvelous reflections on the law.” ~ ChicagoCritic
“A very fresh and personal kind of play with wit, literacy, and an almost unearthly integrity.” - New York Herald Tribune
“Bagnold’s most audacious trick was to disguise her coruscating study of mother/daughter relationships, lovelessness and the collapse of upper-class control as a laugh-aloud comedy. Her dialogue has a glistening comic surface that Oscar Wilde would have envied.” ~ Variety
“… the late Bagnold (who also penned the better-known National Velvet) is one of the most underestimated of the post-war British playwrights, probably because she was a woman writing mainly about, and for, other women.” ~ Chicago Tribune, 2006