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.