The Secret Garden ★★★★ Regent's Park Open Air Theatre | Jun 15 - Jul 20, 2024

A picnic and a play! A visit to Regent's Park Open Air Theatre is always a lovely family event, and this revival of Frances Hodgson Burnett's childhood classic should delight both youngsters and adults. Willful and spoilt, Mary Lennox is orphaned in India, and when she comes to live with her bitter and reclusive uncle, she enters a house full of secrets and learns some important lessons about love and life. This revised version of the story by Holly Robinson and Anna Himali Howard takes considerable liberties with the original in order to make it reflect current values. Mary and her cousin Colin are now the offspring of mixed race marriages, and Colin must learn to accept his disability, rather than "overcoming" it. The character of Padma is introduced as a woman with an anti-colonialist political mission and Edwardian gender roles are eschewed. Nevertheless, the essential magic of the narrative is still here, and the message about the regenerative power of love and nature still enchant the audience. The whole cast put in strong performances, but we were particularly taken by Hannah Khalique-Brown as naughty Mary, and Theo Angel as the tyrannical Colin. Both manage the transition from pest to paragon convincingly. As the young servant, who is a gentle, comic foil for her mistress, Molly Hewitt-Richards also does a fine turn, and she is nicely balanced by Amanda Hadingue's testy Mrs. Medlock. We also thought Sharan Phull's playing of the Robin, and the almost-improvised animal puppets were a nice touch. They, like the rather rudimentary set for the show, leave lots of room for young imaginations to fill in the blanks. However, the decision to use the cast as a form of chorus is somewhat distracting. Too often the audience is told, rather than shown, the story – then to be informed what its reaction should be. This may be a Secret Garden for the 21st Century, but the touching truth at its core still satisfies, making for uplifting family entertainment.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Alex Brenner

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