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Review of The Secret Garden at The Ambassadors Theatre

The Secret GardenThe Secret Garden is a well known novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett from the early part of the twentieth century. As is the way of things, a lyricist Marsha Norman and composer Lucy Simon took the story and made it into a Tony Award winning musical of the same name. Here in London, The British Theatre Academy has revived the piece and brought it to the West End for a run at the Ambassadors Theatre. All told there are over 300 performers working on a rotor system in this production so the review below will cover those performing at the press night.

Newly orphaned Mary lennox (Alana Hinge) has been taken from her home in India and put into the care of her only living relative Archibald Crane (George Mulryan) in his isolated house on the Yorkshire moors. Archibald is not a happy man as he has not got over the death of his wife Lily (Scarlet Smith). Archibald shares the house with his brother Dr Neville Craven (Stuart Nunn) who is in charge of looking after Archibald’s seriously ill child Colin (Sam Procter). At first Mary doesn’t know about Colin and leads a pretty dull life under the supervision of Housekeeper Mrs Medlock (Sinead Davies). In reality, Mary hates her new home until one day a young chambermaid by the name of Martha (Samantha Bingley) encourages her to go outside and explore the gardens around the house. This she does and whilst outside she runs into Ben (Thomas Cove) the Gardener and Martha’s brother Dickon (Matthew Nicholas) a young man with a pleasing temperament who offers to teach Mary how to speak Yorkshire and tells her he can converse with the animals. Dickon teaches Mary how to talk to a robin that lives behind a wall in a secret garden and the bird gives her the key, enabling mary to open the door to the garden and her heart as she finds hope and happiness behind the wall.

I’m going to start by looking at the story itself and I have to say, it didn’t impress me. No disrespect to the author but The Secret Garden is Victorian melodrama at its absolute worst. It plods along with some pretty depressing characters moaning and whinging about life and how much they hate the world. Thank heavens for the characters of Martha and Dickon who do at least imbue the story with some well needed humour and life.

Having said that, this is not a bad production of the show – possibly because it has been cut down to a 75 minute ‘Spring Version’ – and the cast I saw were all pretty good. Alana Hinge as Mary was a treat to watch as she turned from being a spoiled sullen brat to a lovely pleasant young girl. That is one very talented young actress. Whilst we are speaking of young talent, Sam Procter’s Colin was another really great performance which really exemplified the air and behaviour of one born to the ruling classes in the Victorian era. On the ‘adults’ both Matthew Nicholas and Samantha Bingley shone in their respective roles of Dickon and Martha and did much to lift the show with humour and just the force of their really lovely personalities. The rest of the cast were pretty good – in fact they were som good at times I really wanted to jump on stage and tell them to cheer up – and the ensemble, who acted as a kind of Greek chorus, were effective with lovely singing voices and a nice presence on stage as they moved Lizzy Leach’s set between scenes. With such a huge potential cast, full credit has to go to Director Rupert Hands for producing a very polished piece. My only criticism here is that some of the numbers really called for more orchestration than could be supplied solely by Musical Director Richard Baker and his piano – although he did play exceedingly well..

Summing up then, this performance of The Secret Garden has been lovingly staged and presented. Whilst there are, in my opinion, problems with the story overall, this production is good fun and well worth a visit.

3 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

The Secret Garden: Spring Edition is a brand new 70-minute edition of the 1991 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, The Secret Garden, by Marsha Norman & Lucy Simon.

Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Orphaned in India, 11 year-old Mary Lennox returns to Yorkshire to live with her embittered, reclusive Uncle Archibald and his invalid son Colin. On their estate, she discovers a locked garden filled with magic, a boy who talks to birds, and a cousin she brings back to health by putting him to work in the garden. The Secret Garden has a special place in many people’s hearts. Be it as a novel, a film, or a musical, the timeless story has a way of staying with people far beyond their exposure to it.

Director Rupert – Hands
Musical Director – Richard Baker
Choreographer – Jamie Neale
Costume and Set Design – Lizzy Leech
Resident Director – Julie Thomas
Resident Choreographer – Katy Stephens
Producers – Matthew Chandler and Stephan Garcia for The British Theatre Academy

 

LISTINGS INFORMATION
THE SECRET GARDEN
Ambassadors Theatre
West Street
LONDON, WC2H 9ND
Wednesday 27 July to Wednesday 31 August 2016

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