Saturday, 29 June 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Tom's Midnight Garden - The Garrick Theatre, Stockport

When Edwin Heys and his fellow actors founded the Stockport Garrick in 1901 they resolved to “perform the best plays by the most capable amateur actors and with the finest scenic effects”. With those values in mind, I’m sure that Heys would thoroughly approve of the Garrick Youth’s production of the feel-good classic by Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden.

With a minimalist set, the cast, ranging in age from 7-15, had to rely on their acting abilities alone to stimulate the audience’s imagination into believing that Tom’s magical adventure was really taking place on the stage. And magical it was.

The actors worked beautifully together to bring to life their characters and the story of Tom, a modern boy, who is quarantined (due to his brother having measles) in his aunt and uncle’s stuffy, city flat that is part of a building which was once a country house in the late 1800s. The gardens of the house have been sold off for development so there is nowhere for Tom to play, leaving him lonely, restless and awake late at night, which is when he hears an old grandfather clock strike 13. Bemused, he heads off to investigate and discovers not only has the building changed, but there is also a beautiful garden where the backyard and bins should be. The story unfolds as Tom visits the garden each night and develops a friendship with a young Victorian girl called Hatty, who appears to be the only one who can see him.

Throughout the performance 8 players act as the “voices of the house” which lends an eerie feeling to proceedings – a nice touch for a story with ghostly overtones. Equally, the narrative of letters between Tom and his brother Peter helps to set the scene and give more depth to the action on stage.

With such a gifted cast, and professional direction, the show was far from amateur, making it difficult to single out individual actors for praise. However, Gabriel Love played a wonderfully eccentric Abel who brought real presence to the stage especially in the scene with Rob Preston’s Tom, where it becomes apparent that the gardener too can see the young boy. Millie Bell played a suitably brusque and domineering Aunt Grace to Jasmine Ingleby’s sweet and playful Hatty, while Elliot Davies skilfully brought the character of Peter alive despite having a pretty sedentary role in the play.

There are some truly wonderful scenes played out by the youth theatre group, including when Tom realises that Hatty can see him, when he encounters a very young Hatty, and the final night before Tom is due to leave for home, when he cannot find the garden and becomes overwhelmed by the words of all the characters mixed up with his own thoughts and memories. The final reconciliation between Tom, still a child, and the elderly Hatty is, many have argued, one of the most moving moments in children's fiction. Rob Preston and Izzy Dumbarton ensured that the classic moment lived up to expectations leaving the audience thrilled with their touching and emotional final scene.

Having listened to many children’s audio books, I have to say that the Garrick Youth’s production would transfer well as a recording. Their accomplished storytelling was a delight.

Sadly the production only runs for 2 nights, so unless you’re free tonight (Sat 29th June), you’ll miss out. However, the Garrick Youth Theatre will be performing again on 13-14th December (and throughout 2020), and while the production that they will be staging has yet to be announced, I’d mark the dates in your diary, as if Tom’s Midnight Garden is anything to go by, it’ll be a smasher.

Reviewer - Becs McNeill
on - 28/6/19

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful review of a truly amazing piece of theatre! I was there supporting my son who was playing Barty and I was blown away by the performance and I did shed a tear at the end. Thank you again for your review which captured the magic of the performance! My son as everyone else was delighted by your review! Thank you!!