THE SECRET GARDEN: adapted by Garry Lyons from then novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Lyrics: Tim Sutton and Garry Lyons, Music Tim Sutton
Birmingham Rep Theatre till 8 January 2011
Runs: 2h 30m, one interval
Review: Rod Dungate, 30.11.10

Unfulfilled potential.
Despite a uniformly excellent acting ensemble, Ian Brown’s production of adapted Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel THE SECRET GARDEN never really fulfils its potential. It’s a strong story full of rich themes – an orphaned child dragged from her surroundings and placed in the care of a harsh uncle, another child abandoned by his father because the father cannot stop grieving the death of his wife, the power of nurturing living things (whether they be human or animal or plants).

One of the problems is Garry Lyons’ adaptation. The power in the story as a drama, lies in the relationships between orphaned Mary, abandoned Colin, and salts of the earth, maid Martha and her brother Dickon. The adaptation takes far too long to introduce these to us, so the narrative feels weak. When they do appear, they are frequently under-developed and under used – a particular case is the crucial ‘friendship’ that develops between Mary and Martha. Lyons seems too faithful to the book and not faithful enough to a drama adaptation.

It’s all a crying shame; this is a talented company. Amy Lennox is charming as Mary, her change from bitch to beauty is like a light going on. Thomas Aldridge’s Dickon is a great creation; he implies ‘child’ without ever resorting to ‘childy’ acting – one of my pet hates. James Gillan’s Colin is both funny and touching and Evelyn Hoskins’ Martha is totally engaging, a bright light in the Yorkshire darkness – how much I craved that part to be developed.

Tim Sutton’s music is a bit curate’s egg and the lyrics are sometimes difficult to catch. However the singing is strong – particularly the ensemble singing. The final Act I song, Mary at the Door, isn’t strong enough to lift us into the interval (not the singer’s fault), but Martha’s skipping song is a terrific one.

I’m bemused, too, about an adaptation of THE SECRET GARDEN that fails to reveal the Garden to us – in all its fabulous range and colour. Even more so when meticulous care has been taken over texture and colour of the house and walls. And if I hear: ‘The garden you imagine is far better’ I swear I’ll scream.

Mary Lennox: Amy Lennox
Rose Lennox, Lily Craven: Carolin Keiff
Edward Lennox, Pitcher / Storyteller: Stephen Leask
Young Officer / Storyteller: Philip Sanders
Ayak / Storyteller: Jodie Kumble
Archibald Craven: Christopher Dickins
Dr Percival Craven: Giles Taylor
Colin Craven: James Gillan
Mrs Medlock: Julie Jupp
Martha Sowerby: Evelyn Hoskins
Dickon Sowerby: Thomas Aldridge
Ben Weatherstaff: Alan Vicary
Storyteller: Adam Dutton
Storyteller: Dominic Ridley

Director: Ian Brown
Designer: Ruari Murchison
Musical Director: Dan Jackson
Movement Director: Ann Yee
Lighting Designer: Paul Pyant
Sound Designer: Mic Pool
Puppetry Design and Direction: Mervyn Millar
Associate Director: Chris Hill
Casting Director: Kay Magson

2010-12-01 16:07:35

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