Sunday, 18 August 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: The Secret Garden - The Pavilion Arts Centre, Buxton


On tour since June, Chapterhouse Theatre Company’s The Secret Garden arrived at Buxton’s Pavilion Arts Centre. A change for me seeing shows here, as opposed to talks and the like, I went with an open mind, as expected.

With a minimal but satisfactory and simple set, used to act as the exit and entry points between various settings of scenes, the ‘wall’ emblazoned with an ivy-ridden door which was not as hidden as it could have been when characters were looking for it, was on an open stage and served its purpose well, I guess.

Pre-show, Matthew Christmas entered to advise that he was the stand -in for the actor who was to play multiple parts, due to the original casting (Sam Gibbons) having injured himself. This prepared us in case the parts being played were not up to scratch but they were, despite the obvious presence of a black file containing the script, being read almost word for word which prevented the opportunity for physical movement to portray the part. I am surprised that, with it being a large tour, there is no understudy or swing to take on such parts without having to read a script on-stage. Nonetheless he did well.

After this, we experienced a strange scene in which spoilt brat Mary Lennox (Katie Lawson) is in India with her mother (Kim Baker) shouting at - and slapping - her. This is during turbulent times in the continent and leads to her parents being killed, forcing her, with the help of a soldier/servant friend - whose death was poorly-directed - protecting her, sending her off to England to be with her uncle (on her father’s side), Mr Craven (Matthew Christmas), assisted by housekeeper Mrs Medlock (Kim Baker). This scene is odd as the ‘fighting’ (choreographed by Andrew Ashenden) is obvious and pretty poor and includes Mary escaping in a wicker laundry-style trolley and being in the same trolley when she arrives off a train in England. A timelapse perhaps and maybe she wasn't a passenger but a piece of cargo but nonetheless, I found it odd.

Upon arriving at her uncle’s residence, Misselthwaite Manor, she is met by Medlock and friendly house maid Martha (Jessica Porter) who, for me, is the best in the cast. Whilst exploring the grounds, Mary asked her uncle for a patch of land to tend to, after discovering the door to a walled garden with animal-loving Dickon (Kieran Seabrook-France). She also meets gardiner Ben Weatherstaff (Matthew Christmas) and comes across a robin (that was huge and did not look like one, with the use of a tin (but wooden) whistle), the housecat and a fox (all puppets).

Whilst tending to her patch, Mary hears a ‘child’ crying inside the house. When we discover what or who it is, we realise that the sound being made and the actor playing the role of Colin (Tim Chapman) are not that of a child. This, along with the aforementioned wicker trolley, and the fact that the garden looks the same from the inside as it did from the outside, are inconsistencies but at least the entrances and exits into the garden and Colin’s room were consistent.

Obviously they enter the garden and the story of that is a happy one, with stresses and strains between characters, but the morale is clear and beautiful and the show ultimately well-performed (directed by Ben Poole) and true to the story, even if backed by some out of tune sounds from the cast to set scenes.

Well done and we look forward to their Winter tour of A Christmas Carol after they have been to China with Wuthering Heights.

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 15/8/19

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