The Secret Garden
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“Loved it! I was a little girl again reading my favourite book”
"Utterly captivating. Extraordinary creativity. I feel as though I held my breath the whole way through."
“Magical! Wonderful storytelling and a delightful performance.”
There have been several stage adaptations of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s story The Secret Garden over the past few years, but the latest from East Anglian touring company Spinning Wheel Theatre proves that imagination on stage and its reciprocation in the audience can be just as effective as large casts and elaborate settings.
The audience is confronted by Becca Gibbs’ fragmented set, nicely suggesting both indoors and outside, a type of topsy-turvy world – which is exactly what Mary Lennox finds herself in when her parents die in India and she is shipped home to an unwilling guardian, Mr Craven. Spikier than a cactus as first, Mary learns to curb her imperious attitude to those she considers mere menials – but it’s a slow process.
Four very skilled actors make up director Amy Wyllie’s cast, led by Niamh McGowan as Mary and Samuel Norris as Colin, the apparently crippled and bedridden Craven heir. Alice Osmanski takes on uptight housekeeper Mrs Medlock and ebullient maid Martha as well as the old gardener Weatherstaff. Joe Leat plays Dickon, Martha’s brother who has a special affinity with wildlife, Mr Craven and his doctor brother.
A succession of puppets also play their parts, from oriental shadow-play to represent the scenes in India to a chirruping red bird and a hungry fox. “On your imaginary forces work” suggests Chorus at the beginning of King Henry V, and that’s precisely what this production does. It was a pity that the acoustics of the John Peel Centre blurred so much of the authentically-accented dialogue.
Four star rating.
Anne Morley-Priestman, 28th May 2017
All the magic and charm of The Secret Garden are captured in this faithful rendition of the classic tale of friendship and rejuvenation. Initially it’s hard to feel sorry for spoilt 10-year-old Mary but as her story unfolds her behaviour becomes more understandable (even if it’s still largely unbearable!). And as for poor Colin, bedridden for his whole life and just waiting to die at any moment… well it seems the two of them have met their match in each other. But over the course of the spring and summer new friendships blossom, and with just a touch of magic suddenly the impossible starts to seem possible.
Despite some potentially worrying themes (death, illness, despair), the story deals with them all sensitively and even with humour, balancing the darker concepts with magic and hope (and some rather cute puppet animals) and delivering a tearfully happy ending. There are many “lessons” that are sure to provoke thought for children of all ages – from the importance of learning to love yourself in order to love others, through to the value of good manners and the ability to overcome even the most hopeless situations with commitment, effort and love (and maybe just an occasional secret).
With a cast of just four actors, most of them play at least two different roles (there are eight characters in all) so I was intrigued to see how my 8-year-old would grasp the story. I needn’t have worried, of course – role playing and immersion in characters comes quite naturally to children! There were children in the audience as young as three, and every one of them was engrossed the whole way through, despite the performance being longer than might normally be considered bearable for younger children. No doubt this was partly helped by the informal venue and smaller audience size, but credit of course also goes to the Spinning Wheel Theatre team for delivering the tale in a way that was equally enchanting for both adults and children alike.
Sarah Steel – Where to Take our Children review, 30th May 2017
Mrs Medlock, Martha Sowerby & Ben Weatherstaff
Archibald Craven, Dickon Sowerby & Dr Craven
Nick Holmes and Angie Waters
Arts Council England
Ernest Cook Trust
Sylvia Waddilove Foundation