DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Secret Garden – The Word, South Shields

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

Writer: Frances Hodgson Burnett

Adapter: Lisette Auton and Becci Sharrock

Director: Ali Pidsley

Young Lennox (Wambui Hardcastle) is sent to her uncle’s rural house far away from home, after being excluded from school. What happens there changes her and her outlook on life. She engages with two young relatives, Cooper (Ellen Carnazza) and Dylan (Lauren Waine) who like her have emotional issues. Her uncle Mr Craven (played by Sarah Boulter and Zoe Lambert), who lost his wife, is often absent and, like the three children, finds life difficult.

Set design (Lizzy Leech) is not easy when it has to be adapted to various venues, especially when some are not raked. Pallets may help as much action is not visible, especially to small children. Seven microphones and five music stands with seven library chairs is not visually exciting. Young children need to be involved to keep their interest, like the approach to one little girl who instantly lit up and was completely engaged afterwards. However many such opportunities are lost, e.g. the robin (Boulter) could personally direct the flute playing to individual children. While not a pantomime, many in the cast have performed in pantomime and their experience in audience participation and close involvement could be better used.

Apart from the jolly costumes (Leech), a bare white background with two faint grey garden images lent no visual interest. Much of the opening explains to the audience the style of what is to come. This is reminiscent of long artist statements outside an art exhibition but the work should stand for itself – often less is more. Wider access is provided by BSL interpreter Caroline Ryan. The original songs are delightful, expertly played and sang by the cast, including the one male in the company, Michael Blair.

Dating from over 150 years ago this classic children’s novel, written by American Frances Hodgson Burnett, was first serialized in magazine, The American then published in 1911. It is considered amongst her best work and has been adapted for TV, screen and stage, first filmed in 1949. While it is a work of fiction, there are many parallels to Burnett’s life. Carole Wears is known for presenting quality and the continued popularity of this story is testament to its quality.

It is a rural tale of self-healing, friendship and how a secret garden opens up the world. The moral of this classic story is not lost, due mainly to the boundless energy of the enthusiastic talented cast: “It’s nice having friends…” says Cooper. ”Sometimes you have to let the most precious to you go – just a little,” says Mr Craven. “It’s better to try even if you get it wrong” says Dylan. The story shows the importance of positive thinking and energy to one’s overall health – a good message at anytime. This local tour premiered at Hexham Book Festival and, following three more shows, ends at Lady Waterford Hall, Berwick upon Tweed.

Runs until 2nd July 2022.

The Reviews Hub Score

Very energetic show

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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