July 4-August 24
The Secret Garden
Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre
Reviewed for Whatsonstage
It may be called the Pathetic Fallacy but it’s true here: gorgeous evening – gorgeous play. A perfect fit for such a setting, the tale of the spoilt brat sent from exotic India to live in down-to-earth Yorkshire. What with the eponymous exterior and the mysteries of the interior, we watch as Mary Lennox matures and blooms whilst uncovering all the hidden treasures.
The atmosphere is enhanced by the delicacy of the music, and its exuberance, the production, with the inventive use of props eg the unfurling of dainty parasols to symbolise the growing blooms. Then there’s the animals, all endearingly brought to life by the puppeteers; at times, the mere mortals have a wee bit of a job to keep up.
But Heather Phoenix makes it her business to create the forbidding housekeeper Mrs Medlock whilst Ben Weatherstaff, the gruff gardener, compassionate Martha, the maid (Kathryn Delaney) and brother Dickon (Gary Mitchinson), work miracles, particularly where Mary and her cousin Colin are concerned. Peter F. Gardiner’s main role is that of evil Dr Craven and Mark Healy is touching as Colin’s tormented father, matched by Hannah Barrie as Lilias Craven, then brisk Dr Brés
And top marks to Jessica Clark who evolves into an enchanting heroine from a most unpleasant child. Initially, she could give masterclasses in imperiousness and sulks – until encountering the downtrodden, bedridden Colin (Max Gallagher), then he, too, as if by magic, is gradually transformed.
Every year, these shows should be on your calendar, marked with huge gold stars; with this breathtaking, heartwarming production, they have excelled themselves.