A fading manor house near the sea in Sussex, built on chalk soil so little flourishes in its garden. It is the home of keen but poor gardener Mrs St Maugham, a grand Edwardian relic in the manner of Lady Bracknell, who has had the care of her uncommonly precocious granddaughter, now 16, since the girl's mother remarried. Young Laurel bolted from the wedding "and by some extraordinary carelessness she was violated in Hyde Park at the age of 12", the grandmother reports. No wonder that Laurel sets fire to things, screams - and lies. But the mysterious woman whom Mrs St Maugham engages as Laurel's companion - Miss Madrigal, who has no references and never talks of her past - seems to have an instinctive understanding of both her mixed-up charge and of how to make the garden grow. At Mrs. St. Maugham’s beck and call is Maitland, the rather odd manservant, who enjoys, with Laurel, discussing the intricacies of murders and their trials. Everything seems to be fairly smooth considering the circumstances until Laurel's mother (Olivia) comes to take her daughter away and Miss Madrigal finds herself deeply disturbed by the arrival of a distinguished judge. Miss Madrigal’s past is shockingly revealed.
The Chalk Garden enjoyed a highly acclaimed revival at the Donmar Warehouse in 2008 starring Margaret Tyzack and Penelope Wilton, both of whom were nominated for the Olivier Awards with Tyzack winning Best Actress. Both won the 2008 London Evening Standard award for Best Actress. Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph wrote: “It (The Chalk Garden) has a mood that is entirely its own, in which clenched wit somehow co-exists with melancholy, and style combines with a deeply sympathetic account of human unhappiness and chunks of Freudian psychology. I can think of no other play that has quite the same memorable atmosphere. There is even a touch of the courtroom drama about it.”
Bagnold’s brilliant writing has produced both a dark comedy and a potent drama in one – a play full of wit and wisdom.