The Secret Garden
Rating: ★★★★
Venue: Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London
Cast: Theo Angel, Richard Clews, George Fletcher, Amanda Hadingue, Molly Hewitt-Richards, Jack Humphrey, Avita Jay, Hannah Khalique-Brown, Patrick Osborne, Sharan Phull, Archana Ramaswamy and Brydie Service 

Spoilt and abandoned, 10-year-old Mary Lennox is sent from India to Yorkshire, and put into the care of an Uncle she has never met. At Misselthwaite Manor, a broken-hearted house full of secrets and strange noises, Mary discovers a garden as lost and neglected as she is. If she can learn to make friends with robins, grumpy gardeners, and a boy who speaks to animals, Mary might be able to bring more than just the garden back to life.

“What’s the spring like in Yorkshire? It's the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine”

The Secret Garden is currently showing at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park until 20th July. We were very lucky with the weather we had, and having never been to the theatre before, the venue was stunning and perfect for this production.

The staging by Leslie Travers was very clever, and you almost felt as though you were in a secret garden yourself, hidden from the rest of the world. I felt like a child watching this, trying to use my imagination, especially when it came to scenes of the garden blooming. The staging offered just enough, while also allowing your imagination to run wild. I could really envision sitting on that swing in a beautiful full bloom garden reading a book - perfect bliss.

This production is based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett beloved children’s book and radical story, about the magic of nature and the nature of magic, which Holly Robinson and Anna Himali adapted for the stage. I never did read the book, but I grew up on the film and it was one of my favourite childhood films and watching the production on stage was simply wonderful and so nostalgic.

The story starts in 1903, India and is based around 10 year old Mary Lennox, who is mostly hidden away, ignored, spoilt and only cared by her servant, Ayah. Mary’s parents pass away from the deadly virus, cholera, and Mary is sent to Yorkshire, England, to live with an uncle she has never met. On arrival, Mary finds out her aunt sadly passed away 10 years ago and instead she's greeted by Mrs Medlock who now runs the manor. She gives strict orders to not poke around the house, but Mary, like most children, is a natural explorer...

She ends up exploring the grounds, where she comes across a garden which has been locked away for years and once belonged to her aunt. Mary soon learns she might be able to bring back to life more than just the garden.

Despite being set in the 1900s, this adaptation tried to reflected the modern world and at times, in an attempt at representation, it felt forced and unnecessary. For example, the characters Dickon (Brydie Service) and Colin (Theo Angel) are gay, and as the audience, we only witness a very small glimpse of this. Whilst I do believe that representation is incredibly important, in this case, it added little to the plot and wasn't explored any further, which was a shame. Perhaps if I hadn't been familiar with the storyline, it might have passed me by entirely.

The casting for this production was simply excellent. Each member of the cast stood out and they all worked beautifully together. And they way they brought animals in the production (the fox, squirrel, robin and the crow), was so simple, with the use of materials of pieces of cloth and fur, but so effective. Yet again, this allowed your imagination to run wild and envision seeing the animals for yourself.

Hannah Khalique-Brown is exquisite as Mary Lennox. I loved seeing the development of her character as an ignored, spoilt child with no regards towards people or things, to becoming finally  loved and giving that love back, through friendships with other characters.

I’m already planning another trip back with my 10 year old, as I feel children of this age would really appreciate the magic of using your imagination. It truly is a beautiful show based around growth and change, and this applies to the characters, not just the garden.

You can book tickets to see The Secret Garden, here.

Review by Sarah

**photo credit: Alex Brenner**

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