The Chalk Garden

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The Chalk Garden
First edition (Random House, 1956)
Written byEnid Bagnold
CharactersMrs. St. Maugham
Miss Madrigal
Date premieredOctober 26, 1955
Place premieredEthel Barrymore Theatre
New York City
Original languageEnglish

The Chalk Garden is a play by Enid Bagnold that premiered on Broadway in 1955. The play tells the story of Mrs. St. Maugham and her granddaughter Laurel, a disturbed child under the care of Miss Madrigal, a governess. The setting of the play was inspired by Bagnold's own garden at North End House in Rottingdean, near Brighton, Sussex,[1] the former home of Sir Edward Burne-Jones. The work has since been revived numerous times internationally, including a film adaptation in 1964.

Production history[edit]

The Chalk Garden premiered on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on October 26, 1955. Irene M. Selznick was the producer, and the designer for both sets and costumes was Cecil Beaton. Gladys Cooper (who was also in the 1971 revival) appeared as Mrs. St. Maugham, with Siobhán McKenna as Miss Madrigal, Betsy von Furstenberg as Laurel, Fritz Weaver as Maitland and Marian Seldes as Olivia.[2] The play received several Tony Award nominations including Best Play, Best Actress for both Cooper and McKenna, Best Featured Actor for Weaver, and Best Director for Albert Marre.[3]

The Chalk Garden had its UK premiere at the Theatre Royal, Brighton on April 2, 1956, and made its London debut at the Theatre Royal Haymarket one week later, directed by John Gielgud with Edith Evans as Mrs. St. Maugham, Peggy Ashcroft as Miss Madrigal, Judith Stott as Laurel and Rachel Gurney as Olivia. In England, the play was censored by the Lord Chamberlain's office; an instance of the word "violated" was changed to "ravished".[2]

The 1964 film featured Edith Evans as Mrs. St. Maugham, and Deborah Kerr as Miss Madrigal, Hayley Mills as Laurel, and John Mills as the butler Maitland. It was directed by Ronald Neame. Edith Evans was nominated in 1965 for an Oscar as Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The production was filmed at East Dean in Sussex.[citation needed]

The BBC broadcast a radio adaptation of the play in 1968, with Edith Evans recreating her role. It was re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra in 2014. The play was revived in the West End in 1971 at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Gladys Cooper (who appeared in the 1955 Broadway production) and Joan Greenwood, directed by William Chappell.[4]

The Roundabout Theatre Company presented the play Off-Broadway at Roundabout Stage 1, from March 30, 1982 to June 20, 1982. Directed by John Stix, the cast featured Irene Worth as Miss Madrigal, Constance Cummings as Mrs. St. Maugham, Donal Donnelly as Maitland, and Sallyanne Tackus as Laurel. The play won the 1982 Outer Critics Circle Award, Best Revival and the 1982 Obie Award Performance for Worth.[5]

A 2008 production was directed by Michael Grandage, with Margaret Tyzack as Mrs St. Maugham, Penelope Wilton as Miss Madrigal, Felicity Jones as Laurel, and Jamie Glover as Maitland, at the Donmar Warehouse, London.[6] The BBC Radio 3 broadcast a radio version of the play with the same cast in the same year. The production won the 2009 Olivier Award, Best Actress for Margaret Tyzack and Best Lighting Design (Paule Constable). The play received Olivier Award nominations for Best Revival, and Best Actress (Wilton).[7]

A Broadway revival was announced on June 1, 2016 to open in the 2017-18 season with Angela Lansbury playing Mrs. St. Maugham.[8] However, in an interview published on September 20, 2016, Lansbury stated that she will not be performing in The Chalk Garden, stating, in part: "At my time of life, I've decided that I want to be with family more and being alone in New York doing a play requires an extraordinary amount of time left alone."[9] On March 30, 2017, it was announced that a one-night only staged reading would be performed on June 19, 2017 at Hunter College by Lansbury, directed by Frank Dunlop.[10]

In February 2018 Chichester Festival Theatre announced a revival production scheduled for May - June 2018 featuring Penelope Keith and Amanda Root [11]


Mrs. St. Maugham lives in her country house in a village 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.

Critical response[edit]

Rex Reed, in his review of the 1971 West End production, wrote: "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..."[4]

Frank Rich reviewed the 1982 Roundabout production for The New York Times, writing: " 'The Chalk Garden' is extraordinarily modern for a high comedy set in the drawing room of a stuffy Sussex manor house: its plot and structure are elliptical; its witty lines aren't brittle but are instead redolent with what the author calls 'the shape and shadow of life.'... Bagnold's play is in part a journey to the bottom of Miss Madrigal's identity; it is also about the effect the woman has on her employer's household. Mrs. St. Maugham is a selfish, eccentric paragon of privilege who spends her days gardening but can't make anything grow."[12]


  1. ^ "Review Round-up: Donmar 'Chalk Garden' Blooms",, June 12, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Bagnold, Enid. "Introduction" The Chalk Garden: A Play, Samuel French, Inc., 1956; ISBN 0573606897, pp. 3, 8
  3. ^ " The Chalk Garden Broadway" Playbill (vault); accessed June 2, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Reed, Rex. "London Theatre Anemic",, August 1, 1971.
  5. ^ The Chalk Garden, accessed June 3, 2016
  6. ^ Billington, Michael. "Theatre Review — The Chalk Garden",, June 12, 2008.
  7. ^ "Olivier Winners 2009",; accessed June 3, 2016.
  8. ^ Viagas, Robert. "Exclusive: Angela Lansbury Confirms Broadway Return in Chalk Garden", Playbill, accessed June 2, 2016
  9. ^ "Exclusive: Angela Lansbury Reveals She Won't Return to Broadway in 'The Chalk Garden' ", September 20, 2016
  10. ^ McPheee, Ryan. "At Long Last, Angela Lansbury Will Bring 'The Chalk Garden' to New York" Playbill, March 30, 2017
  11. ^ Chichester Festival Theatre
  12. ^ Rich, Frank. Stage: 2 Grandes Dames in 'The Chalk Garden' " The New York Times, April 30, 1982.

External links[edit]