THE SECRET GARDEN
by Frances Hodgson Burnett adapted by Mary Swan.
The Stables Stockwell Lane Wavendon Milton Keynes MK17 8LU To 5 January 2013.
1.30pm 29, 30 Dec, 5 Jan.
2pm 27, 28 Dec, 2-4 Jan.
5pm 29, 30 Dec, 5 Jan.
7pm 27, 28 Dec, 2-4 Jan.
TICKETS: 01908 280800.
then Tour to 20 January 2013.
Runs 1hr 40min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 December.
A pleasant voyage through a young girl’s not always pleasant world.
Now an Edwardian children’s classic, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel (1910-11) wasn’t immediately popular. Its echoes of her own life suggest a sadness, mixed with the sour aspects of its central character Mary in the early part of events.
When her parents die suddenly, she’s thrust from hot India to cold Yorkshire and its grey moors depicted in Sam Pine’s setting. No longer the centre of attention, she must make do with a couple of rooms. It’s the kind of childhood shock also visited, again in an Anglo-Indian context, in Burnett’s A Little Princess.
Hampshire’s Proteus Theatre call-in on their tour for an extended Christmas run at the Stables. Mary Swan, adapter and director, has often written for young audiences and her version is accessible, her production gentle and clear. This is a show that will please almost anyone visiting it, either in Milton Keynes or on the remaining tour (there are a couple of private performances in January, besides showings listed below). There’s some animal puppetry and, less well incorporated into the production’s theatrical vocabulary, mild attempts to induce audience involvement. This seems more to do with it being Christmas-time than with any more intrinsic need.
Louisa Quinn does well as Mary, her opening hostility gradually replaced by genuine curiosity about the garden and where its key might be found. There’s some vigorous playing of locals too, while Paul Wild’s music helps colour in various moods. No-one, whether they are acquainted with the novel or not, is likely to feel let-down by any aspect of the production.
Only, the Edinburgh Fringe 2012 showed another Burnett adaptation, of A Little Princess from Belt-Up Theatre. Point for point it’s probable Proteus would come out on top. Yet Belt Up’s Princess haunts the memory in a way this more immediately enjoyable show is unlikely to do. It’s a matter of daring, be it through cross-casting or giving full rein to the nastiness – there’s cruelty lying around the author’s novels – and the suffering it causes. And a willingness to lead audience imaginations. This show is comparatively tame, though always a faithful account of the story.
Martha: Ashley Christmas.
William: Stuart Dimond.
Dickon: James Laurence Hunter.
Colin Craven: Zoot Lynam.
Mary Lennox: Louisa Quinn.
Ben Weatherstaff/Mr Craven: Paul Huntley-Thomas.
Director: Mary Swan.
Designer: Sam Pine.
Lighting: Charlie Morgan Jones.
Music: Paul Wild.
Puppets: Nick Ash.
Aerial Choreographer: Lorraine Moynehan.