Theatre Review: 'The Secret Garden' in Concert - King's Head Theatre, Islington ✭✭✭✭

'The Secret Garden' in Concert
Photo by Claire Bilyard
King’s Head Theatre 

Review by Sebastian Petit

Monday 11th February 2013: What an absolutely gorgeous score this is! I am at a loss to understand why this work hasn’t entered the standard repertoire of frequently revived musicals. The only possible reasons I can conceive are the complexity of the score and the size of the cast. The staging demands of the opening sequence are formidable comprising a single span of nearly 15 minutes unbroken music covering the discovery of Mary Lennox as the sole survivor of a cholera outbreak in India, Mary’s journey to England and arrival in Yorkshire and Misselthwaite, the introduction of Archibald Craven and finally Mary’s wandering round the house at night and becoming acutely aware of the sad ghosts that haunt the house and its occupants. However Aria Entertainment and Knockhardy Productions eminently sensible and economically staged production let us concentrate on the many beauties of the musical. Inevitably the tiny King’s Head stage cannot give us the multi layered feel that separates the interlocking scenes of past and present. Those who did not know the score might have occasionally confused as to who is who but otherwise the staging hits all the right spots and was often deeply moving.  Maybe we can hope this will lead to a fully staged revival in the near future?

Photo by Claire Bilyard
The two major productions (Broadway and RSC) had superb casts including stars such as Mandy Patinkin, Philip Quast, Robert Westenburg, & Linzi Hately but most of the cast at the King’s Head had little to fear from comparison. Alexander Evans is less sable voiced than either Patinkin or Quast but he brings a beautiful and, when required, a powerful tenor to the role of Archibald Craven. His voice blended beautifully with Zoë Curlett’s lovely Lily who was a potent presence throughout the show even when not singing. Curlett was less happy in the lowest reaches of the roles which required a few uncomfortable gear changes but she was resplendent in the higher lines where most of the role sits. Another highlight for Evans was the wonderful duet “Lily’s eyes” with his conflicted brother, Neville. That role was played with nice line in suppressed frustration by Martin Dickinson. A particularly telling moment was his horrified realisation that he might actually be deliberately keeping his nephew sick.

The other vital component of the cast is the servants who are the first to befriend Mary. Dickon was well played by Jordan Lee Davies though I would have liked him to play up the wild boy / earth spirit aspects of the role. Rachel McCormick’s feisty Martha was happier in the cheery “If I had a fine white horse” than the very awkwardly written “Hold on” where she could have made more of the big climax. A bonus casting was Freddie Davies repeating his cantankerous, outspoken Head Gardener Ben Weatherstaff from the RSC production.

Photo by Claire Bilyard
I have left till last the role of Mary Lennox with good reason. This is a monstrously demanding role especially for a child actress – Mary is onstage for ninety percent of the evening. It is a role which could well be unbearable if played with stage school mannerisms and tricks. It requires unaffected acting from a performer who is unafraid to appear unpleasant and unattractive at the beginning of the story and only gradually blossom into the “lovely child” of the finale. Ana Martin is thirteen but looks younger onstage but she is already a phenomenally accomplished performer. Blessed with an excellent singing voice (happily unencumbered by any inappropriate modern vocal overlay) and exemplary diction she really embodies Mary. None of the performers, even the children, are mic'd yet she holds her own against the strong voices of the rest of the cast. A really treasurable performance.

The four piece band under David Keefe played the cleverly rescored orchestration with brio and sensitivity and there were very few moments when one missed the massive, lush original band sound.
Only one real complaint: This may be a company show in the best sense but the main principals (especially Evans and Martin) deserve solo bows. But that minor grip aside all praise is due to everyone involved. Let us hope a fully staged revival will follow: This wonderful musical deserves to be seen far more widely.

4 stars ✭✭✭✭


The King’s Head Theatre,
115 Upper Street Islington,
Greater London N1 1QN

Evening Show - 11th,17th,18th,24th,25th February & 3rd, 4th, 10th, 11th, 17th March : 7:15pm
Matinee Show - 17th March : 3:00pm
Press Night - 11th February : 7:15pm

Ticket Price - £10 (preview) / £10 - £25 (all other shows)

Box Office - 0207 478 0160