Review: The Secret Garden (Mirvish)

By Wayne Leung

Mirvish is presenting the Edinburgh Festival Theatre’s new production of the musical, The Secret Garden by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre through March 20, 2011.

The play is based on the novel, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. First published in 1911, the novel has become an enduring classic in children’s literature.

The Secret Garden tells the story of a young British girl, Mary Lennox, who is orphaned after her parents die of a cholera epidemic in India and sent to live in the large, gloomy estate of her uncle Archibald Craven in Yorkshire.

Archibald’s wife Lily died giving birth to their son Colin who is sickly and bedridden. Archibald continues to be grief-stricken years after the death of his wife. Mary finds the key to Lily’s hidden, walled-in garden and is intent on bringing the garden back to life.

Mirvish has brought the cast of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre’s production over from the UK for the Toronto run. At my performance, Sophie Kavanagh ably played the role of Mary Lennox, a complex and difficult role for a child actor. Caspar Phillipson put in an appropriately brooding turn as Archibald Craven. Sophie Bould played the part of Lily; her crystalline soprano voice was a vocal standout. Jos Slovick injected some much-needed levity into the show as Mary’s friend Dickon

The world of The Secret Garden is filled with ghosts; Archibald’s wife, Lily appears throughout the show in flashbacks and as a ghostly apparition floating mysteriously in and out of the scenes.

Mary is haunted by the group of people she lost in India including her mother, father and her Indian nanny. Some of the most interesting scenes in the show feature the ghosts from Mary’s past; the apparitions move about the stage in a stylized musical staging creating a host of interesting imagery.

The production design for The Secret Garden is spectacular. The sets are intricately detailed and scene changes are wonderfully fluid and dynamic; large set pieces track on and off counter-rotating turntables on the stage deck.

While staying true to the source material, the pacing is a little slow and I feel that the show meanders about in moments that could be tighter. I also find the show’s approach of its subject matter to be a bit heavy-handed and the overriding tone of the show is dour and morose.

I would have liked to see the dark tone balanced out with more moments of fun and levity.

For example, the song “Wick” in Act 2 where Dickon teaches Mary about gardening and refers to the life force in all living things is a light, fun song that is given a modest staging but it could have been a wonderful opportunity to create a bigger production number.

If you enjoyed the book, you’ll most likely also enjoy this production of The Secret Garden. The show may be a bit too dark and drawn-out for very young children but older children are more likely to enjoy it.

Details:

– The Edinburgh Festival Theatre production of The Secret Garden presented by Mirvish
– February 8 – March 20, 2011 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street West

– Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30 PM and Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday at 2:00 PM
– Ticket prices: $40.00 – $110.00

– Online sales at: www.mirvish.com
– Phone sales: 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333
– Groups call 416-593-4142 or 1-800-764-6420

– $25 student rush tickets: A limited number of day-of-performance tickets will be available at the box office every day, 2 hours before the show, for purchase by students with valid, current student ID. There will be a limit of one ticket per person, at the box office only, cash only.

Photo credit:

– Company of Edinburgh Festival Theatre production of THE SECRET GARDEN photo by Richard Campbell.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Secret Garden (Mirvish)”

  1. I’m finally getting around to my commentary here. All I have to say is that while the score is excellent and the performers gave their all, this show and its libretto is not a remotely good adaptation of the Secret Garden in any sense. And it quite bothered me.

    The book is a celebration of childhood, and champions inherent innocence over the emotional and psychological decay of adulthood. Mary didn’t know her parents at all; in fact, she couldn’t care less that they died because they wanted nothing to do with her while alive. Most adults take the same role until they become open to the natural beauty of the world. It’s like magic. None of this is conveyed or even touched upon in this show.

    All that would contribute to that message has been excised. The modifications to the plot set it up for lackluster conflicts. There’s no Mrs. Medlock villainy! Now there’s some arbitrary side-plot about the uncle wanting Colin to die so he can take over the Manor. And when Craven is casually revealed in the early scenes he’s more distressed than depressed. And apparently he’s had his “hump” and has been generally morose even before he married Colin’s mother. But the worst is that the kids are reduced to background players!

    Anyway, all of this lacked any emotional payoff by the end. And I was shocked that there was not a single flower in the entire set. Stained glass doesn’t count, either.

    The best part of this production was Martha and Dickon – in fact their songs are the best and most valuable in the plot. These two actors were also the strongest and indeed breathed some much needed life into this clunky production, much as they do in the dour world in the book and films. I wish there was more of them and not characters that shouldn’t even exist.

    Moreover, the relationships between the children – key in this story – are rushed, to say the very least.

    As a person who walked into the show nearly in tears for excitement, I was quite frustrated by the end. A total disappointment.

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