Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Secret Garden Gives Child Stars the Chance to Blossom

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Secret Garden Gives Child Stars the Chance to Blossom

Article excerpt

Byline: NICHOLAS DE JONGH

The Secret Garden Aldwych Theatre m

I suppose many little girls will thank heavens for the chance of seeing The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett's adored Edwardian classic for pre-teenagers, transformed into a blooming musical. But I am not with them.

This 1991 Broadway show by Marsha Mason and Lucy Simon, now performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, runs roughshod through The Secret Garden. It strips away the book's sense of mystery and subtleties . It plants in its place a weeping melodrama that bursts out in a riot of forgettable tunes, unexceptional songs and dreary dance routines.

See the romping under-gardeners and troops of chamber,scullery and housemaids kicking up their legs as they celebrate open-air life. Observe The Secret Garden itself as it floats into view, with an attractive lady-ghost all wreathed in heavenly Hollywood clouds. Adrian Noble's hectic production clutches a succession of sentimental, vulgar stage-devices as if they were long-lost friends. And Lucy Simon's oldfashioned music stirs too few emotions. There are, however, two terrific, self-possessed child-stars, Natalie Morgan and Luke Newberry, remarkable for their vocal and acting powers, who surely inspired last night's standing ovation. This duo, together with Philip Quast as an anguished widower, are the production's saving grace, but they cannot save enough.

The Secret Garden celebrates the old English pastoral theory: country-life is far superior to urban living and country folk are fulfilled and happy while their counterparts in towns only discover themselves and happiness in the green open spaces. Hodgson Burnett added a dash of class consciousness.

It's the humblest working folk in the country who achieve fulfilment. The musical valiantly tries to stress the point. …

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