Interview: Niall Moorjani

Niall Moorjani talks about the joy to be found in gardening

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 3 minutes
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Vickie Holden in Grow
Photo by Alice Tucker and Discover Children’s Storytelling Centre
Published 27 Jul 2023

Grow is an interactive story about caring for a friend’s garden allotment while they’re away. The instructions for looking after the allotment are simple: say hello to the animals, check on the plants, and help a new plant to grow. The show is a natural follow-on from writer and director Niall Moorjani’s celebrated works on nature and identity Faerie Tale, Mohan and Selkie. In work for both children and adults, Moorjani has consistently offered novel methods for recognising and loving ourselves. 

“I really wanted to ground the show in this notion of [nature] being accessible to… any urban audience,” Moorjani says. “Most people don’t have access to big gardens. Even if you’re not living in a city, or if you’re in a smaller town, you might have a little garden with a little vegetable patch. I wanted the show to still express the joy that you get from the natural world in those spaces, too.”

One of Moorjani’s main goals with the production is to impart a skill to the young audience. "I like the idea that a little two-year-old who has no concept [of gardening] could come and have a basic understanding of how to grow a plant by the end of it.

“It’s very cheesy, but it’s a very deliberate thing that all the other animals help the gardener grow the plant. The natural world will tell you what it needs, if you’re just able to sit and listen to it.” The garden animals in Moorjani’s script aren’t scary or annoying. They exist in symbiosis with the gardener and the allotment, and they are an essential part of the ecosystem. 

When working with such a young age group, Moorjani says, strong visuals are essential. Diana Redgrave and Vickie Holden, who developed the show alongside Moorjani, lend the show an even stronger clowning bent. The show is brought to life by moments of physical comedy discovered through devising. 

Niall Moorjani

Moorjani says that multiple sensory elements are essential to making the show entertaining for young children. The audience will get to hold things, even make things. There are things to touch and smell and questions to answer. The experience of watching Grow mirrors in many ways the experience of gardening. It’s all listening, learning, and responding. The show's actual duration is closer to 25 minutes – the remaining time in the show's slot will be spent doing a simple craft. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the impetus for Grow originates in part from the climate crisis, as well as from the ever-shrinking well of opportunities to engage with nature while living in a city. “We are robbing ourselves of the potential for these spaces to be immensely positive while the climate crisis rages on,” Moorjani says. 

The show highlights the thought that, like our plants, we, too, are worthy of care, patience, and celebration – that engaging with those processes can be fun and invigorating. If we can employ patience and gentleness in the growing of a plant, can we not extend that same care to ourselves and our communities?

It’s not often that we get to see something inspired by possibility – by the potential for our children to grow up in a framework that celebrates and cohabitates with nature. Sitting in a concrete-paved, generally un-tilled garden while talking to Moorjani, we can already feel the pull of the soil. Through its unwavering commitment to play and community, Moorjani’s writing inspires something deeply essential: hope.