The Secret Garden - 9th December 2000

Oh what a beautiful garden !! After many years of broken promises at last the Secret Garden is here in the UK. This is a fabulous show, with a top quality cast and beautiful staging. Being very familiar with the score and the original look of the show this Garden has now changed to be darker and more realistic.

I don’t believe you could want for a better cast. Philip Quast was absolutely superb, perfectly capturing the distraught character of Archie and his eternal despair as his quest for what he can never have brings him to breaking point. His songs were delivered beautifully and the wonderful duet ‘Lily’s Eyes’ was perfect as Peter Polycarpou’s Neville and Archie’s voices complimented each other filling the theatre as they sang of their duel love. ‘Race you to the top of the morning’ is such a touching song for a father and son and Philip certainly delivered it as such. Philip’s Archie had the lovely Meredith Braun as his Lily. She is a delight with a perfectly clear voice and created the warm loving character for Lily, the continual guardian angel of her family who only leaves when she knows they can learn to live again without her. Philip and Meredith created a wonderful chemistry for their scenes and in particular the incredibly moving ‘How could I ever know’. Lily’s lilac dress created that perfect ethereal look for her heavenly spirit.

Linzi Hateley and Craig Purnell were excellent as Martha and Dickon. Martha gets to sing the great ‘Hold On’ and Linzi is one person who can deliver the song so well. Craig’s Dickon is very cheery if slightly simple, but in a kind way. He was convincing in creating the character as someone who is akin with nature and by being a little childlike himself helps his relationship with the children work.

Peter Polycarpou, Dilys Laye and Freddie Davies provide sterling support as Neville, Mrs Medlock and Ben. Peter’s Neville came to the fore in Act 2 showing a man struggling to keep the family in order. In reality he is also a man on breaking point but he can’t walk away as Archie does. Tamsin Egerton Dick and Eddie Brown were also excellent as Mary and Colin created strong characters and sang extremely well.

The staging is in a way minimalist with just doors representing the manor interior plus the odd bed, stool and desk leaving the imagination to complete the scene. These scenes are swiftly moved on and off stage by the servants. The drops for the garden are slightly opaque with a leaf-like design which move across the stage to create the maze and also enables scenes in the background to be removed from the main scene but still remaining in view. The chirpy robin made his ‘magical’ appearances charming the audience, again a simple concept but cleverly crafted so that your attention was diverted for that split second as he disappeared.

I particularly liked the staging / direction of Lily. In ‘A girl who came to my valley’ Archie is always just a step behind Lily, it is if they are playing a game of tag, Archie’s youth and spirit returns but as Lily leaves his presence his world crumbles once more as reality comes back to his mind. When Colin is in the garden, Lily enters and as she walks past Dickon he feels her presence pass him and knows that Lily had come to see her son. Lily’s spirit is always there in the house and garden and although she rarely physically touches Archie, Colin or Mary her presence beside them inspires them and gives them extra strength as her arms surround them in her love. She only appears to them when she feels she is needed to make that final connection. At the end of Act 1 as Mary is lost in the storm Lily appears, like an Angel, to lead her to the sanctuary of her garden. During ‘Come to the Garden’ as she calls Colin she kneels in front of him to take his hands to lead him. During the wonderfully moving final duet between Lily and Archie, he wanders around the streets of Paris spiralling further into despair and when he reaches the end and feels he can no longer go on he suddenly knows that Lily’s is there with him. She finally becomes a reality to him for the final moments as she makes him realise that he has to let her go. Only when he is reconciled to this she is able to leave him knowing all will be well and with one final whisper she tells him to come home with ‘Come to my garden’. She makes one final appearance in her garden and as all her family are together she quietly leaves although never perhaps completely from her garden.

The decision to cut all the ghosts, apart from Lily, Rose and Albert, and to cut the flash backs have pulled the piece together making it tighter and more flowing . The India scenes now only appear at the beginning and when Mary is thrown from Colin’s room in to the nightmare of the storm and the cholera and her parents dying.

If I had to criticise one element of the show then it would be the two dance scenes for ‘It’s a maze’ and ‘Come spirit .Come Charm’. They didn’t advance the story and seemed to be added for the chorus to have something more to do. They were very well done but for me I could have done without them. A minor criticism though of an excellent show, I highly recommend it and thankfully a London transfer is confirmed. A whistle stop backstage tour topped off an excellent night. All can ask is when is my next visit.

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