A fresh new outlook and dazzling interpretation of one this country’s most beloved and traditional storylines, York Theatre Royal welcomes audiences on a trip down memory lane.
When Mary Lennox finds herself caught in a catastrophic earthquake whilst living with her parents in India, she must find a new path to follow, which starts with her long journey back to England and her uncles vast estate. Mary is sour and spoilt to start, but begins to seek comfort in the friends she has around her, including woodland creatures that are effectively brought to life by live puppetry. However, it is not until she begins to hear the story of her mysterious uncles fall into depression with the loss of his wife, and the discovery of a key he had hidden within the estate many moons ago to access a secret garden, that Mary begins to get curious. Curious enough to locate the garden and unleash the natural wonders that are rich behind its walled exterior. Later she meets her unnerved cousin, Colin, trapped away within the large mansion house, and by breaking him free of his ‘questionable condition’ Mary brings the once fractured family unit back together to benefit all.
Ella Dunlop, who plays the innocent and slightly bossy Mary Lennox, uses her mature sounding singing voice and youthful personality to bring life to this childish fictional character. The incorporation of class divisions and male hierarchy creates many issues, not as regularly prominent today, which are well highlighted by Dunlop in the performance. Another high quality moment in the production, besides our young protagonist, has to be the staging, which encapsulates the dark and gloomy feel of a Victorian style building, yet is easily adapted to open screens to areas such as Craven’s office and of course the doorway to the secret garden. Along with fairy lights and plenty of greenery, fighting against the beige outer set, the secret garden takes on a life of its own, which again is effective in drawing audiences in.
Unfortunately, although the piece is very child friendly, it does tend to rely solely on comedic gags all the way through, and there is no hard hitting drama or suspense that could add further layering to a perhaps obvious adaptation.
Overall, an upbeat production with an almost Disney inspired score, surprising audiences with its creative staging and tribal like choreography. Jessica Swales adaptation will indeed have you reminiscing of the classic Secret Garden storyline, and fill you with enough vigour to keep you entertained from beginning to end. 3/5
Review written by Luke Redhead.
The Secret Garden is currently showing until Saturday 25th August at the York Theatre Royal. To find out more about the show, visit here…