Garden of earthly delights

Norma Cohen

Inspired by Paula Rego's stirring triptych, Crivelli's Garden, the latest "rites of passage" drama presented by the touring company Theatre Centre for 15-year-olds and upwards is an unfolding series of boxes within boxes.

Playwright Fiona Graham sets her story in a Portuguese fishing village at the time of Salazar's dictatorship. It's a testing, non-naturalistic play in narrative verse to which the audience from Tolworth Girls School, Surrey, brought acutely-tuned antennae.

The action is framed by Renaissance temple "statues": Martha, patron saint of housewives and waitresses, and Catherine, tortured on the wheel for refusing to marry a Roman Emperor: "We are women, thus we serve; we boil and fry."

These role models act as chorus to best friends Carla and Rosella, struggling into adulthood, wrestling with the conundrums of risk and security. The garden becomes a metaphor for their memories and dreams, shadowed by a video story flickering from the temple walls of Alba who fled and paid the price.

Carla is torn between marrying Paolo, living life safely "in petticoats of expectation" or striking out alone. Rosella, however, is pulled by her mother's needs, her love for Carla and her own fears of abandonment. The tug of love has an inevitable twist.

There is little acknowledgement of the potential richness of family, where would we be without "the gift of food that feeds the belly"? However, the play points to unwritten stories. Germaine Greer says that a sense of containment emanates from Rego's paintings but there's often a glimpse of sea or sky, always a way out. In Crivelli's Garden, the kitchen door remains wide open.

National Gallery Education Department gives a talk to participating schools audiences in front of Crivelli's Garden (Sainsbury's Wing). Theatre Centre Open Day November 23: 0171 377 0379.

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