The Secret Garden from the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur. Book by Tim Kelly. Free Rain Theatre directed by Anne Somes. Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, Wednesdays to Sundays January 16-27, 2008, 10.30am (1hour 45mins with interval). Bookings: 6275 2700.
This musical play version is definitely as good as reading the original novel, according to one family with four children interviewed by The Canberra Times after last Thursday’s performance. This is because the characters and human relationships are true to the novel, even though theatrical devices are used to entertain us in a style which readers may not expect.
This adaptation and its interpretation in action neatly weaves song, dance and dialogue to create emotional effects from humour and concern for people’s welfare through to a sense of achievement in a satisfying conclusion. This gives children in the audience a genuine theatre experience which kept even two-year-olds watching, while from an adult point of view may be even better than the novel. What could be read as a sentimental story has been directed by Somes so that songs are both cheerful and reflective, allowing the story to be told simply and clearly.
The cast of 16 was remarkable for working so well as an ensemble, while each is an individual character worth watching in their own right. Experienced actors like Lainie Hart – wonderful as Mrs Sowerby – gave leadership to younger performers such as Samantha Wood, playing the lead role of Mary Lennox. The warmth of their camaraderie flowed off the stage into the audience, so even the very young could believe in the turnaround in the feelings of self-worth for Colin (Jack Taylor) and his father Archibald Craven (Andy McLeod).
My only criticism would be that the overly cheerful reprise of the happy family song as the curtain call, though thematically justifiable, was a rather too sudden change in mood from the quiet recognition of the new emotional security established in the final scene. I would have liked the audience to have had the opportunity to thank the performers with applause at that moment, with perhaps just the magical memories song to conclude.
But one small quibble should not distract readers from taking their children to a highly successful production of The Secret Garden.
Return to Frank McKone's Home Page