The Secret Garden
By Elli Davis, March 4, 2011
- Book and Lyrics by Marsha Gordon
- Music by Lucy Simon
- Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Royal Alexandra Theatre
- Now until March 19th
Francis Hodgson Burnett’s novel, The Secret Garden, upon which the musical is based starts in India where a cholera epidemic has killed Mary Lennox’s family. Her only living relative, Uncle Archibald Craven, accepts his avuncular duty and becomes Mary’s guardian. Mary is sent to live at the Craven household where we quickly discover that Archibald’s wife, Lilly, died in childbirth approximately 10 years earlier. Their son, Colin, is a sickly child who is kept alive by Archibald’s brother, Dr. Neville Craven.
Lilly had spent much of her life tending to a SECRET GARDEN surrounded by a brick wall with a hidden door which can only be opened with a special key. Mary is a curious young lady and desperately wishes to explore the garden -- a wish that becomes more intense as she is forbidden to do so. Whilst wandering through her new home she discovers her cousin, Colin.
This story is augmented by the presence of the ghosts who are comprised of Mary’s dead family members and soldiers who were part of Captain Lennox’s brigade, as well as Colin’s mother. The Victorian morals are not only greatly influential but also provide us with a basis upon which we can thread the pieces together with proper understanding of a bygone era.
This is a dark story resplendent with grey, colourless ghosts. The set pieces revolve and mesh to facilitate a dark moor and simultaneously a backdrop for the young lively and hopeful children, who are as colourful as the Garden itself. Contrast and juxtaposition accentuate the piece.
The score appears as luminescent as it originally was when first brought to the stage some 20 years ago. It may be slightly abridged, as I believe is the script, but cuts seem to have enhanced the overall production and helped it to move more steadfastly on stage. If we can be so bold as to call this an operetta, we have a series of superb voices, clever staging, complimentary lighting and sound all of which transports this Secret Garden to a wonderful place for all of us to enjoy.
Special mention ought to be made of Ellie Coldicutt whose voice and style is perfectly suited to the role. I can quibble about a few performances but I believe that choices made by the director, not the actor, have resulted in less than a perfect evening. There is little difference between the ill and weak Colin before and after his journey to the Garden. Caspar Phillipson’s Archibald confused me from the start. He appears to be angry rather than despondent and not quite as elated to see his son as we all rejoice in the final few moments of the story.
Generally speaking this is a fine production and should be a must see for devotees of Victorian stories, ghosts and goblins and music that requires concentration and which is not just