STAB’s take on the Tony award winning Broadway musical ‘The Secret Garden’ mixed light-hearted humour with the underlying serious storyline. For those who don’t know the tale, Mary Lennox (played by Phoebe Chan), a young English girl who lived in India, moves back to England after her parent’s die of cholera. She moves in with her Uncle in Yorkshire in which she finds friendship, a family and her Aunt Lily’s secret garden.
The performance opens with a set stage: desk and chair to the left, bed to the right. Down stage in front of the curtains is a bench with leaves on the ground and a backdrop of plant life, representing the outside. The orchestra, led brilliantly by musical directors Rob Collins and Rosie Jenkins, is on stage for the entirety of the performance, placed upstage behind a screen. The screen’s use comes to light in the prologue when the ‘dreamers’ are placed behind it to separate them from reality. These ‘dreamers’ are the people from the characters’ past, with the likes of Mary’s parents and Uncle Archibold’s (Alex Catterall) wife. The dreamers, who come in front of the screen when interacting with a character or recounting the past for the audience, are a major aspect of the production and are a continual reminder of the past. The director, Thea Crawford Svensen, has done well to interact the past and present so neatly on stage.
Without a doubt the highlights of this production were the scenes where Mary (Chan) is allowed to let her inner 11 year-old loose. The emotional story is interrupted with moments of hilarity as Mary refuses to dress herself or screams blue murder at the headmistress who is threatening to take her away to school. Chan’s vocals are faultless as well as her acting; as she is on stage during most of the performance, her songs are a nice break for the audience from some of the other vocalists in this production. Another performance that must be mentioned (and in my opinion stole the show) was that of Hattie Pridmore playing Martha, a nurse figure to Mary. From the moment she entered the stage, her Yorkshire accent and playful manner lifted the production immensely.
The vocal performances of Hannah Reed (playing Nevile Craven) and Charlotte Thomas (Colin Craven) I feel must get some recognition. For any girl taking on a male role (and I’ve had my fair share) it is a difficult task, however taking it on in a musical is even more demanding. When I first found out that Crawford had cast the soprano vocals of Hannah as a male role I was concerned. However, even though the change of key made it somewhat odd to picture Reed as a man, her vocals were effortless and I commend both girls on their performances, with special mention to Colin and Mary’s duet in the second act. Both Thomas and Chan conveyed these young characters beautifully, and the directness of the children is innocent and hilarious.
Other names I feel I should mention include that of Mike Clarke who stepped in at last minute, James Philpott who conveyed a gardener with gusto, Jess Groocock who kept up Lily’s eerie song until the very end and Lydia Woolway who produced a rather formidable housekeeper. Although the vocals might not have been up to scratch, Alex Catterall and Leo Mylonadis (Archibald and Dickon) produced strong characters, one a mournful widower who finds love for his family again, and the other, one who helps make that possible.
My congratulations to Thea, her producer Dharrnesha Inbah Rajah and Rob on a very successful production. I have to say, I was nervous about the performance while sitting waiting for the lights to dim, but I came out having thoroughly enjoyed myself.