The Secret Garden

Tron, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

four stars

The soul-destroying effect of childhood loneliness and neglect and the restorative power of nature, were cogently intertwining themes in The Secret Garden (1911). A new stage adaptation for family audiences (produced by Red Bridge Arts) pinpoints how truly timeless and relevant the book is now.

Rosalind Sydney has taken the original narrative, shaken it free of the ‘upstairs-downstairs’ aspects of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s narrative and brought a wonderfully robust energy to the sentimentality that creeps into its happy ending. This paring back and updating results in a fast-moving hour - co-directed by Sydney and Ian Cameron - that astutely grounds the ‘magic’ of the garden in a convincing reality, reminding us - in the face of climate change - how vital trees and wild life are to our own wellbeing.

When the orphaned Mary, abruptly displaced from her life in India, arrives at the Scottish home of her distant uncle, it’s not just the weather that chills and alienates her. There’s no warmth in the welcome - her uncle’s away, housekeeper Mrs Medlock is a walking book of rules, all no’s and don’ts that isolate the little girl in her own room.

Itxaso Moreno’s Mary is by turns wary and bolshie - almost feral, at times - knowing that she is seen as a burdensome ‘refugee’ and not wanted. Initially uncommunicative, her nuanced body language is the litmus of changing moods as - bustled out-of-doors by cheery, chatty housemaid Martha (Sarah Miele) - Mary discovers the secret walled garden, and her own capacity for joy and friendship.

This transformative journey is superbly paralleled in Karen Tennant’s set design where plain wooden crates burst into a wealth of foliage and flowers while Gavin Jon Wright shape-shifts from pursed-lips Mrs Medlock to Dickon, the young lad so attuned to nature he has animals (well, cleverly manipulated puppets!) in his pockets. Miele, meanwhile, makes likeable comedy out of wee Colin’s panicky hypochondria before he too, like the garden, grows and blossoms.

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