REVIEW: The Secret Garden

Daniella Piper (Mary Lennox)

Last night was the re-launch of the Barn Theatre, Cirencester, with the critically acclaimed musical The Secret Garden.

Having been to the Barn Theatre numerous times, I am always keen to see how each company transforms this stage. Based on the 1911 novel by English playwright Frances Hodgson Burnett, the team behind Barn Theatre transformed the stage to envision and encapsulate Misselthwaite Manor and the enchanted garden.

Jaimie Pruden (Lily Craven)

From director Dominic Shaw, this production of The Secret Garden brought this classic tale back to life with a refreshing and well-executed folk twist. With an extremely talented cast the production was able to deliver very raw performances with the arrangement and infusion of the live musical ensemble, which was second to none – the modern take on the production’s original score also completely paid off. In keeping with the haunting and magical elements of the story itself, the folksy tunes amplified the play’s spiritual motifs revolving around the deaths of loved ones, but also reviving hope into the cold Misselthwaite Manor through the revival of a garden.

Steffan Rizzi (Ensemble) with Jaimie Pruden (Lily Craven), in background Jamie Ross (Ensemble)

Amidst an impressive use of lighting the cast and musical ensemble weaved in and out amongst each other, which also shed light on the ability to create depth and versatility to, and on, the stage. Barn Theatre’s rendition of The Secret Garden introduced the use of puppets to explore this further, which was a unique and interesting tool to bring ghostly spirits from the beyond onto the stage.

Jenny O’Leary (Martha) and Daniella Piper (Mary Lennox)

One of the performances that really stood out for me was Jenny O’Leary’s portrayal of Martha. O’Leary brought so much personality to the stage both when speaking and singing her lines – she was equally strong during her more comical and bubbly scenes as she was when belting out a ballad. Superb.

Daniella Piper (Mary Lennox) and Celeste De Veazey (Colin Craven)

A childhood innocence and charm is introduced by Daniella Piper’s Mary Lennox, as well as Celeste De Veazey’s performance as Mary’s cousin Colin Craven. The growth of the characters and their relationship with one another parallel the play’s beguiling and uplifting nature. This is also represented by distinct performances from David Haydn, as Archibald Craven, and Jaimie Pruden who plays his late wife Lily.

David Haydn (Archibald Craven) with Jaimie Pruden (Lily Craven)

Through their duets and solo performances Haydn and Pruden take the reins on the more haunting aspects of the story. Pruden in particular, through her voice alone, creates a spine-tingling and eerie stage presence which conveys Archibald’s torment – this really stood out for me. Her voice is incredibly alluring, and worked well with the cross over between the Edwardian and folksy aesthetic.

Left to right – Steffan Rizzi (Ensemble), Daniella Piper (Mary Lennox), Alex James Ellison (Dickon), Jamie Ross (Ensemble), Celia Cruwys Finnigsan (Ensemble), Ben Boskovic (Ensemble)

This is a heart-felt and feel-good production, and comes at the perfect time as we start Spring. It’s family-friendly, it boasts very strong and professional performances, and it is a fabulous introduction, and reboot, to the Barn Theatre.

The Secret Garden will be on at Cirencester’s Barn Theatre until April 15.

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