This modern take on the classic children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett sees city girl Lennox staying at her uncle’s estate in rural Northumberland. Initially lonely and despondent with her situation, she eventually befriends her ill cousin Cooper and neighbour Dylan and the three end up going on a journey of self-discovery as they try to uncover the mystery of a secret and hidden garden on the grounds.
Intimate staging for the Secret Garden
I must admit that I haven’t read the source material so I can’t comment on how accurate an adaptation this is, but viewing the play as its own piece, I found The Secret Garden to be very enjoyable. The production was performed in a spiegeltent, and as a result was very minimalist, using only a handful of actors and props on a small stage. This worked to its advantage, giving the piece a feeling of intimacy.
The story is framed by the characters recounting it to the audience, which adds to this intimacy as well as giving you a feeling that you are a character participating along with the story as well. A clever artistic choice to get around the limited cast is that the uncle character does not appear on stage and is instead represented by one of the actors speaking into a microphone. This helps to signify how distant and cut off he is from the other characters.
There’s plenty of humour, with Dylan providing most of the best moments, and the folkish musical numbers are lovely, but this is also balanced out with strong dramatic moments that are well performed by the cast. One of the themes of the story is the sense of isolation and loneliness, which resonates heavily in the Covid era. There are also themes about the magic and wonder of nature, coming to terms with grief, learning to let go of your child and allowing them to be their own person, and how friendship can help us grow as a person.
Much of the audience was made of families, as you would expect. However, there were also quite a few groups of adults who got into the spirit of things just as much as the kids. They sang along with the musical numbers and cheered at the end. This is a show very much recommended to everyone that will hopefully encourage the younger generation to seek out the book (it’s certainly made me want to).