The Royal Shakespeare Company do not produce many musicals so it was with great interest that I looked forward to seeing their new musical staging of “The Secret Garden”. This show broke all box office records in Stratford-upon-Avon, where it opened with an advance of over 1 million ukp last year. Directed by Adrian Noble, it is based on the novel by Frances Hodgon Burnett and has book & lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon.
I was once told that if you have high expectation for something, then you are certain to be disappointed. In this case that person is correct as I found “The Secret Garden” to be basically average, and this is mainly because the music is ordinary and bland. The score badly lets the production down because the acting, singing and dancing is solid and the set design by Anthony Ward is a delight.
The story concerns a young girl called Mary Lennox who has lived all her life in India. However, when both her parents die of cholera, she is sent home to England to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven, in the lonely Yorkshire Moors. However, her uncle is still mourning the loss of his wife who died 10 years ago and has become detached from Colin, his crippled son, who was born the same day his wife died. But when the spoilt and bad-tempered Mary arrives, the quite routine of the household is to change, particularly when Mary befriends the servants and discovers a secret garden which is to play a significant part in their lives.
This is a beautiful and magical story that has a very touching conclusion. However, as I said the music is unmemorable resulting in the show lacking any punch. But it is saved by a great story and a great performance from Philip Quast as Mary’s uncle. His singing and acting is of the highest quality as he brilliantly portrays a man who is self-destructive because of his deep grief and refusal to come to terms with his loss. Quast’s performance is essential to this show. He alone holds the production together. The children, Mary and Colin, were played by Tamsin Egerton Dick and Eddie Brown in this performance , and both played their parts well and have good singing voices. The rest of the company produce solid, competent performances that we have come to expect from the RSC.
The show has received a mixed response from the popular press.... NICOLAS DE JONGE for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "A weeping melodrama that bursts out in a riot of forgettable tunes, unexceptional songs and dreary dance routines." JONATHAN MYERSON for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Adrian Noble's staging is magnificent, using sliding screens and waltzing doorways to say everything you need to know about the darkness of the house and the hopes buried in the garden." He goes on to say, "This is family entertainment - something for everyone though rarely everything for someone." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Norman's lyrics may occasionally plod, but Simon's music stays upbeat and agreeably tuneful." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Irresistible - but it could have been better." He goes on to say, "By the end, intellectual resistance to The Secret Garden has become futile, as the tear-ducts start pumping out the briny. You'll be needing your tissues."
“The Secret Garden” is a charming show that many will enjoy because of its enchanting story, but you won’t come away from the theatre feeling you have witnessed anything outstanding, with the exception of Philip Quast of course!
**Production photos provided by EPO**