The creme de la creme of summer theatre


Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel The Secret Garden is far from a fairy tale.

The book has a  hidden dark side, sometimes frightening and ugly with undercurrents of abuse and hints of cruelty. Yet despite this The Secret Garden is a powerful story that extols the wonders of nature and its power to transform lives.

Liz Stevenson’s production of Jessica Swale’s richly imagined adaptation, coupled  with Lily Arnold’s imaginative  design is pure enchantment. Stevenson has created a  seamless, balanced and magical piece of theatre but at the same time, has not been afraid to highlight the dramatic darker side of Burnett’s novel.

The inclusion of animal puppets and specially composed music by Stevenson has been an excellent move adding an element of pure magic but they are never intrusive.

Lily Adam’s set design is stunningly creative. The frosty trees at the side, the mirror effect that the audience have been looking at through Act 1  opening up to reveal a vibrant garden that spreads and grows capturing all the flowers and foliage of the seasons contrasts beautifully with the starkness of Misselthwaite Manor.

The play opens in 1910 when a recently orphaned Mary Lennox arrives from India to Misselthwaite Manor, a mysterious place with many secrets on the wild Yorkshire Moors.

We follow Mary’s journey from a petulant frosty child to a caring young girl who unlocks the gate to the Secret Garden and changes lives forever.

The Secret Garden has a talented cast whose characterizations are strong, believable, portrayed with warmth, humility and where necessary humour and pathos.

Despite three of the characters Ella, Dickon and Colin being over twice the age of the roles they play – so skilful is their acting you don’t even  notice.

Ella Dunlop’s, Mary Lennox is a typical child-of-the-Raj. She is snobbish, condescending and a pure brat who mellows amidst nature and the straight talking Yorkshire grit residents of the manor.

Matthew Durkan’s Dickon is pure gold. He is so in tune with nature and without even raising his voice tames the wild child with his gift of talking to the animals, whilst Steven Roberts doesn’t fall into the trap of  making the invalid  Colin a heavy dramatic role but adds a lightness and even humour to the part.

This production ranks as one of the best pieces of summer theatre I have seen for a long time in fact The Secret Garden is blooming marvellous.

Runs until 25 August at The Theatre Royal York.

Liz Coggins is a member of The Critics Circle

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