The Secret Garden

Wed 14th – Sat 24th August 2013

reviews

Hazel Rowland

at 04:11 on 18th Aug 2013

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There is one word to describe this adaptation of the Francis Hodgson Burnett’s novel - sweet. Whether one believes that to be a good or bad thing, ‘The Secret Garden’ by the student-run 3Bugs Theatre Company is certainly a new interpretation of the classic children’s novel.

The story is told with the help of shadow puppetry, traditional songs and handmade sets. The make-shift scenery is inventive. The only permanent parts of it are the white curtains used for the shadow puppetry, and as scene dividers. Scene changes are enacted by the performers, the smoothness of which should be commended. The inclusion of shadow puppetry was a pleasant touch too, it was only a shame that it was not used more.

It is the songs and the puppets which make this production excessively sweet. The birds are played by human actors with life-sized figures of their bird attached to their wrist, while they use their faces to imitate the birds’ focus darting around. It is a good idea, as it gives the birds far more personality than a puppet would. The tune ‘Lark Ascending’ becomes a symbol for the garden. This strong musical decision adds to the sense of magic in the garden. Yet coupled with the numerous birds flitting around, as well as the use of nursery rhymes, it does become a bit ‘Disneyfied.’

The company ensure that the production, being aimed at children, runs under an hour. Cuts to the novel were therefore necessary, and unfortunately they did not choose the right ones. The miserable Archibald Craven (Bethany Kapilla) is hardly given any stage time despite him being the most complex character in the novel. Consequently, his revelatory return to the garden is not nearly as important an occasion as it should have been, since his pain over his wife’s death is largely glossed over.

But even Mary Lennox (Miranda Horn), who is almost always on stage, is a bit of a one-dimensional character. She scowls constantly, initially to put across how ‘sour-faced’ she is, but this becomes the only expression she is capable of. She is more successful in her interaction with Colin Craven (Dudley Sturmey), realistically depicting their childish abruptness.

‘The Secret Garden’ succeeds in retelling the classic novel in a new and interesting way. The scenery and the bird puppetry are imaginative ideas to capture a child’s attention. However, the cuts to the story are misleading, and do a slight injustice to the original story.

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Suzanne Duffy

at 04:43 on 18th Aug 2013

0agrees

1disagrees

It is always difficult to tell how effective a piece of theatre is when it is not primarily aimed at you, and this made the success of 3Bugs Fringe Theatre Company’s adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’ difficult to gauge. The children themselves are probably the best barometer and they seemed to enjoy this production, which was sweet and innovative.

The white curtain and lights used to create silhouettes of intricate puppets - as well as the actors themselves - lent the production a pleasant ethereal quality and the bits of physical theatre that were used, for example: to represent a bustling train, were refreshing.

Amy Mills, playing stern Mrs Medlock, was a delight, and I can imagine for the younger children sat on the front row her sudden appearance from behind a curtain during the scene where Mary investigates mysterious crying was spine-tingling. Lauren Dickenson is also a pleasure to watch as the chirpy maid servant Martha, whose broad Yorkshire accent contrasts amusingly with Mary’s spoiled-sounding Queen’s English.

However, I did feel that the play occasionally strayed into the territory of being twee and perhaps slightly patronising towards the children. Mary (Miranda Horn) was generally played with panache, particularly when she gets twisted up angrily in a skipping rope, but her scowling was at times too exaggerated, and her wonder too strained. Just because children do not like to be bored does not mean they can’t appreciate subtlety and so it should not be dispensed with altogether.

Perhaps this problem lies really in adapting the original novel for the stage, as it requires that the garden be somehow represented and the extensive character development be squeezed into an hour. The decision to represent birds and insects flitting around by attaching them to the hands of cast members had mixed results. On the one hand it was a good way of conveying the Eden-like nature of the garden, but on the other the blocking became tangled as the actors moved quickly around the stage.

Since coming to the Fringe this year I have seen truly excellent examples of children’s theatre and this may have skewed my perception as to how good children’s theatre needs to be to satisfy its audience. ‘The Secret Garden’ did the job it set out to do competently and cheerfully.

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Comments

Jake Deret; 19th Aug 2013; 10:59:05

Lovely images, singing and staging. Slightly confusing script with uneven pacing. Strong performances from the entire ensemble, though preferred the slightly more natural performances of the Yorkshire natives over the overly exaggerated child caricatures of Mary and Collin (would appeal to children though I'm sure) though this contrast may well have been a stylistic decision.

Thought this was a charming, clever piece that gave a classic story a fresh feel but seemed to breeze over the themes and morals of the book despite being perhaps too dependent on the source material (dialogue taken straight from the pages almost all the way through) in every other way.

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