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Theatre Review: The Secret Garden ****

Joy Watters reviews an outstanding production that 'manages to bring a radical contemporary approach to the work while beautifully distilling the original'.

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel was published in 1911 and this new adaptation of her work, which has inspired several versions on screen and stage, is outstanding. It manages to bring a radical contemporary new approach to the work while beautifully distilling the original.

Hodgson Burnett’s prescience in having an unsympathetic protagonist who is healed from her mental anguish by nature is astonishing, and leading young people’s theatre company Red Bridge is perfectly in tune with the essence of the piece.

Rosalind Sydney has stunningly adapted the original and directs just three talented actors in such a way that the cast feels much bigger. The story is reworked, sometimes without the need for words, substituting actions and sounds.

Young Mary (Itxaso Moreno) is orphaned abroad and brought to her uncle’s big house in Scotland. Moreno conveys through movement and facial expression the rage of a lonely child ignored since birth, only occasionally breaking her silence.

She rejects all overtures of welcome, but maid Martha (Sarah Miele) persists and introduces Mary to friendship and the secret garden where the child feels happy for the first time in her life.

Mary is kept in line by housekeeper Mrs Medlock (Gavin Jon Wright as a formidable auld wifie) but introduced to nature by gardener boy Dickon (Wright again, as a lad revelling in his connection with the outdoors).

Miele also doubles up as Mary’s cousin Colin, hilarious and sad by turns, who has been locked away in the house. Neglect has turned him into an invalid, but Mary gets him into the garden and recovery.

Karen Tennant’s design is a delight as the garden comes into bloom, illuminated by Mark Doubleday’s lighting. Danny Krass’s sound and compositions carefully underpin the transition of mood.

The tour continues until March 8th, 2020.

Tags: theatre

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