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How to Kill A Houseplant - A Review by Lucy Davidson

Studies have shown that younger generations are obsessed with houseplants. They’re less expensive and demanding than pets or children, can tolerate a certain degree of neglect and, with the right care, flourish reliably. However, when they die, it can feel personal, as if our intrinsic human ability to care for and nurture is somehow broken.

Similar questions about care and growth infuse Chelsea Grace’s How to Kill a Houseplant, a theatre piece made up of five 5-minute monologues which are named after the different ways that houseplants can wilt and perish, sometimes through neglect (Let it Become Pot Bound, Ignore Pest Problems) or over-indulgence (Over-Fertilise).

As the woman awaits the results of a pregnancy test, she contemplates the way that she was raised, the expectations that are placed upon women and their bodies and what might come of raising a child in the world today. Grace using the deadline of the pregnancy test result is a clever plot device: in a world that has an increasingly short attention span, we remain similarly anxious about and attentive towards the outcome.

Delivered to her dead houseplant - and by extension, the audience - the woman attacks many aspects of herself and the world around her. In Not Enough Warmth, she considers the way that she gives away so much of herself by trying to listen to others, but in turn struggles to look after herself. This, she muses, is the role that women are all too often expected to fulfil.

In Over-Fertilise, the woman turns her attention outwards, delivering a monologue in rhyming verse that castigates the empty void that people fill with overconsumption and jobs that they don’t enjoy. She poignantly remarks, ‘What’s the point in living if you’re not really living at all?’

It’s moments like these that get to the heart of Grace’s writing and make it all the more effective as a result. When form is married to content - Not Enough Light is illuminated solely by torchlight, which in turn allows the woman to literally and metaphorically excoriate the hidden parts of herself - it is a clever and well-constructed piece.

However, I’d have liked more personal depth. Grace builds a portrait of a furious and busy world without giving us enough of an insight into her own: at times, I was unsure which thoughts were her own versus which might appear in a zeitgeisty news report about the state of the nation. Moreover, this lack of personal insight meant that her final change of heart and revelation was somewhat unsupported.

Nonetheless, the piece is sincere and well-structured, offers an insight into contemporary concerns and offers a cracking performance from Grace to boot. Time to water my houseplants.

A review by Lucy Davidson as part of Framework's Theatre Writers Pilot Scheme.


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