22 August 2022

Review: The Secret Garden

By Rachel Sloane

Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds 19th – 3 September 2022

The cast (Robins) with adult actors (Photo @Dan Cole Media)

This well loved 1911 story by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was updated for the Theatre Royal’s community production  by Nicola Werenowska. That was a necessity as the original story ends with Colin, the child who had been mainly confined to bed for ten years, and who then uses a wheelchair, miraculously standing and walking, due to the influence of the Secret Garden and his friends Mary and Dickon. In this more realistic age, the play ends with Colin, and his family and friends, accepting his disability but with a positive note for the future.  

The other main change was The Guardians, a chorus of onlookers, played by children, who watch, mainly from the upstairs balcony, and comment on the action… and ‘the secrets’. As the programme explains, having this chorus meant that more local children could take part in this professional production.

There are two teams of young actors, (named Robins and Roses), along with two young crew members, (James Broadhurst and Maisie Keeble) and all – a total of twenty – will have learnt so much from their time at the Theatre Royal this summer, with the opportunity of working on equal terms with professionals.

At the Saturday matinee I attended (well-supported by a family audience), it was the ‘Robins’ team who appeared.

Successfully playing a huge part, Mary (played by Jasmin Briggs) was the haughty and lonely child sent from India, struggling to adapt to her new life in wintry Yorkshire, until she makes friends with Dickon (Dillon Bhavsar), the local boy who loves animals. Together they reveal the secret boy, and help Colin, (Oscar Gleeson) to experience a world beyond his sick bed, and for his father Mr Craven (Graeme Dalling) to accept his son, whom he blamed for the death of his wife, ten years before.   

The three young actors rose to the challenge of carrying the play, well supported by the adult actors, including the warm and patient maid Martha, (Colette McNulty), the strict Mrs Medlock, (Olivia Carruthers) and gardener Ben Weatherstaff (Paul Hamilton). 

Gardener Ben Weatherstaff with Mary, Colin and Dickon (Photo: @DanCole Media)

Quite a lot is left to the audience’s imagination. The robin who lives in the garden and Dickon’s tamed animals are described or mimed, but are not seen.  Two moveable doorways and a high garden wall, (with a door that revolves to change the stage into the ‘secret garden’ of the title, thanks to the roses on the reverse) also meant that the settings were more implied than actual, including  the overgrown and beautiful secret garden.  

An enjoyable afternoon at the Theatre Royal and congratulations to a great cast of adults, some very impressive young actors . .. and a story reworked for 2022.


Mary and The Guardians (Photo: @DanCole Media)