Review: The Secret Garden (Tron Theatre Glasgow)

The Secret Garden, the classic British children’s novel, is a little less British than people might think. It was first published as serial in an American magazine. Similarly, Rosalind Sydney’s adaptation is a little less traditional than one might expect. Itxaso Moreno stars as Mary, a little girl who loses her parents amid a war zone and moves to her uncle’s country house in Scotland.

The choice to bring such a relevant and modern element to a story like this is inspired as well as confrontational. It forces the audience to question how they perceive refugees and conflict by placing the story into such a familiar frame. It also goes to demonstrate that stories of moving to a new place and feeling scared are universal, and no more complicated to a child audience if they’re from faraway lands or the next town over. Despite my trepidation of casting an adult to play a child, Moreno exudes all the juvenile stubbornness and wonder that you could hope for.

The staging is, again, far from what you would expect from a children’s show, but this time to its detriment. Sydney’s direction, combined with Mark Doubleday’s lighting direction and Danny Krass’s sound design and composition, is overly sophisticated and cold. The stage images may be familiar with adults in the audience, but I worry that the “6 years and over” is a little low for a piece which relies so heavily on a variety of mossy crates, large frames, and a couple of ladders to communicate the setting and situation. (Even I got lost at times.) The bareness of the stage, the harshness of the lighting, and the strangely low rumbling and ticking of the sound are more akin to a thriller than a children’s show about making friends and wandering around a mansion.

The script is seemingly in conflict with the production; the former wants us to learn more about Mary, as she learns about her new home, and opens up to the people she meets. The latter keeps us at arm’s length, and lacks the necessary warmth for the story to leave an impact. Of course, it all leads up to the final scene, which is meant to be a change of scenery. It is certainly the most charming scene in the show, though not quite as wondrous as it is built up to be, and ends all too abruptly. It’s a shame that such a concept didn’t reach its full potential, but alas The Secret Garden has withered before it had the chance to flourish. Two stars.

Whispers from the Crowd:

"I thought it was really good"

"Really clever and creative"

"Very moving actually"

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