The Secret Garden runs until 8th January 2011 at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. Times and prices vary.
By Danielle Farrow
This triple Tony Award winning musical by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon focuses strongly on relationships and the harm people do to themselves in being ‘contrary’ to avoid pain. When newly orphaned Mary Lennox is transplanted from India to the Yorkshire Moors, wind wuthers through the haunting ‘house on the hill’, ghosts drift through it and the cries of a hiding boy, Colin Craven, alert her to one of the secrets of her new home. The children’s journey to health in body and mind is beautifully mirrored in the set and lighting of this production, from muted, dull remoteness to warm, ‘wick’ connection, particularly in that other great secret – the garden itself (though a little more brilliance could make its final transformation even more glorious).
The boy’s father Archibald Craven makes his own parallel journey, and his relationship to his ghost wife Lily forms probably the strongest thread played out. Relationships (and even whose eyes haunt) are changed from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s story in ways that reinforce the chosen theme: life has its ‘wuthering’, the painful struggle to get through, but being alive – being ‘wick’ – means that along with the pain you can experience joy, growth and connection.
The roles of Mary and Colin are shared, with Ellie Coldicutt and Gene Goodman performing on this occasion. Coldicutt was strong throughout, with an apt stillness and occasional deadpan comic delivery that worked well, and Goodman grew into an engaging performance. Siobhan Redmond’s imposing presence means one wishes for more of her Mrs Medlock, but the cast performs well, highlights being the haunting influence of the opening, “Hold On” by Lauren Hood as Martha and much of Sophie Bould’s singing as the dead Lily. Caspar Phillipson as Archibald Craven and Graham Bickley in the altered role of his brother add greatly to the dramatic force of this production, which has strong duets and solos, though occasionally, where three or four principal characters were singing and in some of the choral dance routines, there was a slight ‘messiness’.
That said, overall the choreography and the music especially illustrated story and feeling beautifully. The use of lights held by the dancers worked particularly well at differing points, the set was adjusted naturally, and the music really supported the main strength of this production – the way in which heightened feelings were delicately and effectively played upon, bringing great pathos and emotional swells. Place was also reflected well, with traditional influences for both India and the moors.
The joys and humour in Mary’s development do appear but are given less attention than the painful relationships because of the chosen focus of this production. Even so, The Secret Garden musical is fairly faithful to the book and, with this focus, has real depth: the audience too can experience joy, growth and connection.