THE SECRET GARDEN
by Frances Hodgson Burnett adapted by John Dwyer.
The Met Market Street BL9 0BW To 24 December 2014.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 761 2216.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 December.
A Secret Garden well worth opening up.
Secrets are being unwrapped this year, so far as popular women children’s writers of a century or so ago are concerned. In Harrogate, the traumatic mind of Railway Children’s author Edith Nesbit emerges in a suitably attic-like space, while in Bury The Met has teamed up once again with Proper Job, who live up to their name in this adaptation of Manchester-born Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous 1911 novel.
John Dwyer’s stage version steps rapidly through the back-story of lovers’ separation and bereavement. It’s almost subliminally expressed, with little context at the time, but is reflected in the fuller story of young Mary Lennox, an emotionally impoverished rich girl, bereaved in India of the parents who had ignored her. Mary finds new life at her uncle’s house on the Yorkshire moors, amid similar stories of death and deprivation, for here she discovers the secret garden, which allows her to grow anew.
It’s not so far from the middle of Bury to such moors; less to the northern accents which surround Mary. The cast in James Beale’s production have a genuine northern quality, not just in accent but manner. This is open, honest, unpretentious playing of characters who put the class into servants and workers.
That quality’s highlighted by contrasting technical complexity, as the wall of Rhys Jarman’s set reveals its secret, with Martyn Wilson’s projections, gleaming as Mary develops a new purpose when she meets Dickon, a local youth outside the straits of respectability.
Their energy projects on to Colin, whose physical condition is a mirror for Mary’s emotional state, as the secret garden’s spirit helps them help him to overcome his fears.
If there’s a lot that’s instinctive rather than rationally prescribed in this story, that’s reflected in the piano accompaniment running through the performance. It accompanies events and supports specific moments of feeling, not by trying to underline or substitute for the action, nor even commenting on it.
Rather, Katherine Wilde’s playing of Roddy B’s flowing music supports and earths the mix of cold emotions (surprising to us in an Edwardian children’s classic) and surprising events of Burnett’s story.
Craven/Ben: Rick Ferguson.
Lilias/Mrs Medlock: Philippa Flynn.
Martha: Steph Reynolds.
Colonel McGrew/Dickon: Calum McIntosh.
Lady Porter/Nurse: Kate Adler.
Colin: Connor Beckwith/Felix Knowles.
Mary: Kate Bannister/Amelia Lucas.
Chorus: Joseph Beckett, Lucy Dixon, Lili Donovan, Lily Ells, Ellie Goddard, Eleanor Holt, Francesca Jerry, Lily Kenny, Ben Kidd, Matthew Kidd, Flora Knowles, Hugo Knowles, Lydia Lucas, Chloe Melia, Kelsey Openshaw, Hannah Park, Helena Price, Lucy Toyne, Molly Wainwright.
Director: James Beale.
Designer: Rhys Jarman.
Lighting: Pete Robinson.
Composer: Roddy B.
Musical Director: Katherine Wilde.
Projections: Martyn Wilson.
Assistant designer: Alex Priestley.