“You know,” I said to Rupert, “under Islamic law a quintessentially English occasion like this one would probably be outlawed.” Rupert nodded. He played the garden some more, a glass of white wine in his hand. Then it was time for him to make a speech about Omar Bakri. He took his place next to the raffle stall, and the garden fell silent.

Extract from Jon Ronson, Them: Adventures with Extremists

Will you help me with understanding the meaning of the phrase "play the garden" in the sentence above. Neither literal nor metaphorical meaning does not make me sense.

  • Who is he in He played he garden some more,...? Rupert or I or someone else. – user20792 Aug 6 '15 at 22:52

I think this is a combination of two phrases "work the room" and "play to the crowd", which have similar meanings:

Work the room:

(idiomatic, of a host, hostess, or guest) To interact enthusiastically with the attendees at an event, by moving among them, greeting them, and engaging them in conversation.
As a campaigning politician, he really knew how to shake hands, kiss babies, and work the room.

(idiomatic, of a performer or public speaker) To interact with one's audience, taking cues from its reactions and adapting one's performance or words to elicit the audience's attention and enthusiasm.

Play to the crowd:

to perform in a manner that will get the strong approval of the audience; to perform in a manner that will get the approval of the lower elements in the audience.
- John is a competent actor, but he has a tendency to play to the crowd.
- When he made the rude remark, he was just playing to the gallery.

So, in this case, the subjects are outside, in a garden, so they can't "work the room", they need to "work the garden". And it's not uncommon to switch "work" and "play".

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    A related phrase is "work the room." – mkennedy Aug 6 '15 at 20:12
  • @mkennedy OMG... I've been going crazy because I can't find "play the room" in google and you're completely right. the normal phrase is "work the room". – Catija Aug 6 '15 at 20:13

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