The classic of children's literature The Secret Garden - a poignant story of loss, loneliness, release and rebirth - comes to life at the ADC Theatre in a polished musical with high quality casting, vibrant performance and exquisite vocals, making it a complete treat.
Though performed by amateur actors, the excellent Festival Players production at the ADC 28 May - 6 June sets a high standard, not seeming at all amateur. With high quality performances and great charm, it has everything that makes great musical theatre - enjoyable story, soaring music - well-played by the band - excellent cast and direction, and it is visually stunning. The directors and cast must be delighted.
On opening night in an almost full theatre the stage was set with a walled backdrop and four poster bed with a small girl playing at the foot of the bed. The small girl is Mary Lennox, the lead character, played in this performance by Phoebe Poulter-Kerry-Sinclair. (NB the roles of Mary and Colin are shared and will depend on the day you attend).
The story centres on ten-year old Mary, who is sent to England after her parents have died in colonial India. She is sent to live with her widower uncle Archibald Craven in an isolated house on the Yorkshire Moors. Befriended by the maid Martha, played impeccably by Lucy Cheke, and Martha’s brother Dickon, portrayed by Dan Lane, Mary begins to find out more about her family’s past and discovers a bedridden cousin, Colin, (on this night played by Arun Austin). As the two become friends and Mary discovers a secret locked garden the story unfolds.
The setting for the show was simple but very effective, with some excellent lighting effects creating in particular a beautiful red sunset and an amazing moon as well as silhouettes of trees providing a good backdrop for the action. There is an old wall covered in greenery which doubles as the backdrop for India and the house in England and the props are kept simple but effective at setting the scene.
The ensemble starts as guests at the house in India, and evolves into friendly spirits, ‘The Dreamers’, guiding Mary and providing some excellent vocals for the haunting music. The vocals felt almost operatic and there were some fantastic singers in the cast, both for solo, duet and ensemble numbers.
In particular Philippa Clark as Lily Craven sang sublimely. And the lead men, Matt Gregory and Jonathan Padley, as Archibald and his brother Dr Craven, provided some great duets as well as strong characterisation. The costuming was excellent – the Dreamers looked both graceful and ghostly in their white outfits and the ensemble numbers filled the stage with beautiful singing and stylish choreography. The overall effect was magical.
The junior cast were outstanding. Phoebe Poulter-Kerry-Sinclair was on stage for much of the action, had a huge amount of lines as well as solos and some complicated harmonies in the songs. The acting covered a wide range of emotions as Mary changes from a spoilt and bereaved child to becoming a true friend, motivator and healer for Colin.
Phoebe gave a poised and confident performance and stood out amongst a very talented cast. Dickon was played very ably by Dan Lane, and had a very lovely duet with Mary, as well as some well-played scenes throughout. He deserved a solo bow. Arun Austin gave a solid performance as Colin, with torrid tantrums and the emotional changes as he becomes friends with Mary. One tiny gripe is that Colin’s bed was positioned badly and it was difficult to see him behind the posts.
Colin is healed not by bedrest and medical care, but by friendship and fresh air and having something to look forward to and the three younger members of the cast expressed this beautifully.
There is super scene with Dickon, Mary and a robin, portrayed by a flute, which worked very well. Another favourite scene was ‘Come Spirit Come Charm’ which was an excellent example of the company working together to produce an outstanding effect.