Monday, August 08, 2016

Earthly delights and other short stories: The Secret Garden


The Secret Garden Spring Version is a fun and emotional foray for young people into the world of musical theatre. Or those who are hesitant at experiencing overblown musicals from the 1990s. It is currently playing currently sharing the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End.

Creators Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman have reduced the running time of the piece to 75 minutes for younger performers. They have stripped out much of the adult brooding from their original work and focus on the younger characters. By doing so it gives the piece pace and energy and with a young enthusiastic cast the show really feels alive.



The Secret Garden is based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett and is full of death and melodrama. Orphaned while living in India (after her parents drank the water), 10 year-old Mary Lennox returns to Yorkshire. Her only surviving relative is her hunchback uncle Archibald. She has never met him and he too is grieving over the loss of his wife 10 years earlier.

Mary soon meets Martha the chambermaid and she tells her of a secret garden which belonged to her aunt Lily before she died. Searching for the garden introduces her to other characters including a host of servants and gardeners to rival Downton Abbey. And her slightly malevolent other uncle Neville. Ghosts of the past are always present and help Mary find the garden and also give the others a new hope.

Presented here by the British Theatre Academy, a cast of 300 performers are rotated between the shows. It is a chance for them to perform in a West End theatre in semi-staged production of the show.

The Ambassadors Theatre is still the home of the ever-enduring Stomp and so it plays mostly during the day or on non-Stomp nights... You're never quite transported to the Moors given bins and other props from that show are visible.

But the cast of enthusiastic young performers under the age of 23, seems to make it work.

For the press night cast Alana Hinge as Mary kept the focus on her curiosity and determination. She never seems to have time to grieve for her lost parents. But then again she never spent much time with them anyway (this is Edwardian England after all).

Samantha Bingley as Martha lit up the show with her cheeriness and comic timing. As the ghost Lilly always going on about that garden, Scarlet Smith gave the piece its emotional base. She also demonstrated impressive vocal dexterity with this demanding role.

Directed by Rupert Hands, shows run throughout the day over August. There are also some evening shows as well. They finish at a sensible time for young people (or people that just like an early night even at the theatre).

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Photo credit: production photos