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The Secret Garden

Sweet and entertaining, Leatherhead Rep's adaptation of 'The Secret Garden' has something for everyone - including a real life dog!

For a girl who loves to read books – and devoured them as a child – I have a surprise admission: I’ve never read Frances Hodgson-Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden.

So with little more than a basic storyline, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this adaptation – the second production in the Leatherhead Spring Rep Season which opened last night (Tues 24 April) at the Leatherhead Theatre.

Was this a play for adults? For children? Or would it transcends age and simply be loved by all. The quick answer to that question is the third one: this will appeal to everyone. Dave Simpson’s musical adaption contains a bit of everything: sadness, hope, triumph and joy. Oh and a real-life dog, who almost steals the show.

The story follows that of 10-year-old Mary Lennox, a sad but spoiled orphaned girl who is sent to live with her uncle – a recluse and hunchback – at Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire moors. It’s always interesting when an adult plays the role of a child – but Lottie Johnson captures Mary’s little-girl qualities well – her innocence and vulnerability, her petulance, and as the story progresses her adventurous and determined spirit.

Bored and inquisitive, Mary explores the Misselthwaite Manor, where she discovers she has a sickly cousin called Colin who’s kept hidden away, and the grounds, where – with the help of a robin – she finds a secret garden which has also been kept locked up. And so, she sets about restoring life and vigour to both.

It’s a musical, but with just 12 songs throughout the entire production, the music is more a subtle accompaniment than a major feature of the show. The set design, too, is kept simple – with a bedroom scene and the garden. And with clever lighting it’s well done.

Fiona Gordon is convincing as the abiding housekeeper Mrs Medlock – complete with Yorkshire accent. And Emma Mulkern is charming as the gawky and giggly housemaid Martha.

Keith Hill steps ably into two roles – that of the affable gardener Ben Weatherstaff and also the stern and rigid Dr Craven, who’s responsible for Colin’s care – and he switches fluidly between the two characters and their accents. It took me a while to realise the characters were played by the same man! (The previous week I saw him as Sir Humphrey in Yes, Prime Minister, which to my mind makes his performances even more impressive.)

Jack Mosedale is brilliant as Jack – nailing the spoiled, sickly child… and his tantrums. Mosedale also provides charming and clever puppetry for the friendly robin.

Peter Steele was unrecognisable from his dual roles in the productions of Yes, Prime Minister last week to Dickon, Martha’s brother last night, and William Hazell, too, was transformed from his previous role as the PM Jim Hacker, to hunchback Mr Craven.

And that’s part of what makes the rep season so amazing and clever. This small company of talented and versatile actors move seamlessly between roles and productions. Next week, they’ll bring Alan Ayckbourne’s Communicating Doors to the stage – and I’m certain this will be another production that’s not to be missed.

But this week it’s The Secret Garden – a sweet and entertaining production that’s well worth booking in to see. With a starting time of 7pm – and a finishing time of 9pm – it’s also perfectly possible to take the kids to this for a mid-week treat.

The Secret Garden’ runs until Sat 28 April at The Leatherhead Theatre, 7 Church Street, Leatherhead, KT22 8DN. Tel: 01372 365141.



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