There have been several stage adaptations of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s story The Secret Garden over the past few years, but the latest from East Anglian touring company Spinning Wheel Theatre proves that imagination on stage and its reciprocation in the audience can be just as effective as large casts and elaborate settings.
The audience is confronted by Becca Gibbs’ fragmented set, nicely suggesting both indoors and outside, a type of topy-turvy world – which is exactly what Mary Lennox finds herself in when her parents die in India and she is shipped home to an unwilling guardian, Mr Craven. Spikier than a cactus as first, Mary learns to curb her imperious attitude to those she considers mere menials – but it’s a slow process.
Four very skilled actors make up director Amy Wyllie’s cast, led by Niamh McGowan as Mary and Samual Norris as Colin, the apparently crippled and bedridden Craven heir. Alice Osmanski takes on uptight houskeeper Mrs Medlock and ebullient maid Martha as well as the old gardener Weatherstaff. Joe Leat plays Dickon, Martha’s brother who has a special affinity with wildlife, Mr Craven and his doctor brother.
A succession of puppets also play their parts, from oriental shadow-play to represent the scenes in India to a chirruping red bird and a hungrey fox. “On your imginary forces work” suggests Chorus at the beginning of King Henry V, and that’s precisely what this production does. It was a pity that the acoustics of the John Peel Centre blurred so much of the authentically-accented dialogue.
Four star rating.
The Secret Garden is on tour across East Anglia until 18 June, including the Little Theatre, Sheringham on 31 May, the Corn Hall, Diss (2 June), Southwold Arts Centre (3 June), the Fisher Theatre, Bungay (June 4) and the New Wolsey Theatre Studio, Ipswich on 17 June.
(reviewed at the Little Theatre, Sheringham on 1 October)
Spinning Wheel Theatre is one of those enterprising ensembles which the East Anglian air seems to generate; you see similar sort of activity down in the West Country, so perhaps a certain geographical remoteness also comes into the equation. For its current short rural tour Amy Wyllie has created Casanova. That’s right, a three-actor historical drama with epic pretensions.
Wyllie’s main influence seems to be Marie Antoinette, the 2006 film by Sofia Coppola with its soundtrack mixing genuine 18th century music with a more popular – even punk – 20th century beat. It’s all pleasantly tongue-in-cheek as Joe Leat introduces us to the title character and his many shifts to create a name and a place for himself. There’s more than a touch of Candide or even Don Quixote in his eternal optimism mingled with a definite naîveté.
It’s an enjoyable performnce which lets the audience into the joke right from his first appearance. All the women in Casanova’s life (and there were a great number of them) are played by Lucy Benson-Brown with the aid of a dazzling array of quick gown and headgear changes; design is by Becca Gibbs. All the men who either help or (the majority) hinder our hero’s picaresque career come in the form of Samuel Norris.
Nick Holmes gives us a set with a painted backcloth highlighting the iconic buildings of the countries and cities which Casanova visited; in front is a bridge (the Bridge of Sighs?) and there are a couple of screen booths o act as boudoirs or carriages as the plot dictates.
It’s a romp and not to be taken too seriously though the comparatively quiet ending where Casanova finds a sort of contentment in writing his memoirs under the protection of the Prince de Ligne, visited by his first (and possibly only true) love Henriette, gives a gentle sense of quiet fulfilment. He’s come to the end of his journey, and to the end of his days. What remains is a legend.
Casanova tours mainly to community and village halls until 22 October. There are also performances at the Fisher Theatre, Bungay (6 October), the New Wolsey Theatre Studio (7 October), the John Peel Centre, Stowmarket (12 October) and the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh (21 October).