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