The Secret Garden Blossoms In York
Andrew Liddle, Features Writer
York Theatre Royal have a winner here for the next month with a magical summer show they have imported from the Theatre by the Lake, Keswick.
Jessica Swale’s splendidly free adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Edwardian classic children’s novel, A Secret Garden, directed by Liz Stevenson, is a delight for the senses, something really special which appeals to all ages in all ways.
Ella Dunlop is outstandingly natural as the ten-year-old Mary Lennox whose aristocratic time in India has come to an unexpectedly brutal end. The young orphan is sent to live with a reclusive uncle in Misselthwaite Manor, a dark and broody place with obligatory nocturnal howlings, on the Yorkshire Moors. Here she gradually loses her social prejudices and begins to enjoy life, discovering the power within herself and within nature. Helped, it seems, by powerful forces, she takes it upon herself to discover the legend of the secret garden. And while she’s at it, by sheer exuberance and force of personality, she somehow does wonders for her sickly cousin Colin (Steven Roberts) and his father, her Uncle Archibald (Chris Jack).
Mary is aided and abetted in her quest to find out the truth by Dickon (Matthew Durkan), the young animal whisperer, her maid Martha (Coral Sinclair) and the old gardener (Keith Bartlett) - despite the best efforts to stop her by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs Medlock (Flo Wilson) and the even more sinister doctor (Anthony Jardine). More than this it is not wise to give away because the slowly developing story has a beautiful appeal and a real enchantment for those who don't know it.
Lily Arnold’s ingenious set is a thing of beauty, all shiny panels and fairytale paths through the woods, where sagacious animals and birds play (at the behest of puppeteers) and magical things may happen. The set will eventually open up to the most gorgeous garden whose beauty is delicately caught by Matt Leventhall’s lighting.
It really is a wondrous production modulating from one mood to another, effortlessly evoking the spirit of the original book, capturing all its highs and lows, its dark and bright passages. Not least of the delights is Barnaby Race’s unusual, wholly original music, haunting and inspiring by turns, and somehow bringing a touch of Indian charm to the bleak Pennines.
This is perfect for the summer.
The Secret Garden is at York Theatre Royal until August 25th.
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The Secret Garden Blossoms In York, 4th August 2018, 11:31 AM