Review: The Secret Garden (Young People’s Theatre)

Natalia Gracious and Jake Runeckles in The Secret GardenYoung People’s Theatre’s production of The Secret Garden enchants Toronto audiences

When I found out I would be reviewing The Secret Garden produced by Young People’s Theatre, I was both excited and a little nervous. The play is based on one of my favourite children’s books, so I was looking forward to seeing it with my young guest, who also loves the story. But I was also afraid the production would make a mess of it. I needn’t have worried. The performance is delightful and enchanting and manages to live up to our high expectations. 

The Secret Garden is based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel of the same name. It tells the story of Mary Lennox, a sickly, spoiled, and selfish girl born in India whose parents die in a cholera epidemic. After their deaths, Mary is sent to an isolated manor on the Yorkshire moors in England to live with her uncle, Lord Craven. She finds herself surrounded by sadness and secrets, including an abandoned, locked garden that no one is allowed to enter and Colin, her uncle’s bedridden son. With the help of Martha, a good-natured servant; her brother Dickon; the gardener, Ben Weatherstaff; and a friendly robin redbreast, Mary discovers the secrets of making both flowers and love grow.

Playwright Paul Ledoux’s adaptation of the novel faithfully captures the magic and enchantment of the original. My guest said she liked how the script kept all the essential points of the story while making it shorter. She was glad the play had the same feeling as the book since she likes the book so much. But she did not think you needed to have read the book to understand the play.

We both think the actors do a great job bringing the script to life. We particularly like Natalia Gracious as Mary. She plays Mary as a spoiled brat who is slowly won over by the beauty of her surroundings and by Martha and Dickon’s care and friendship. In a post-show Q & A session, Gracious was asked her age by an inquisitive young audience member. I won’t reveal it, but I will say I was shocked at how convincingly she played a 10-year-old. Vivien Endicott-Douglas is also excellent as Martha. She’s warm, cheerful, and unfazed by Mary’s rudeness. She also has a very authentic English accent.

Designer Teresa Przybylski’s set features a simple green wall covered in a tangle of twisting vines. It switches smoothly from the interior of the manor to the gardens with a simple raising and lowering of an upper panel. The robin redbreast twittering and perching on the garden wall is charming and a big crowd pleaser. With just a few simple props, the garden begins to grow and then to flourish as the play progresses.

YPT suggests The Secret Garden for kids in grades 1-7. Both my guest and I think that’s about right. On the day we attended, the audience was a mix of ages, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. We both recommend The Secret Garden for kids and adults alike. It’s funny and sad and hopeful all at the same time. And it speaks to the power of love, attention, and good fresh air and sunshine to heal and to make things grow.

Details:

  • The Secret Garden is playing until March 17, 2018 at Young People’s Theatre (165 Front Street East)
  • Shows run Monday – Sunday at various times with 11 performances during the week of March Break. See the website for details
  • There are ASL Shadow Interpreted performances, Audio Described performances, and Relaxed performances. See here for details.
  • Tickets range from $10-$4 and can be purchased online, by calling the box office at 416-862-2222, or in person.

Photo of Natalia Gracious and Jake Runeckles by Cylla von Tiedemann