The Secret Garden

Mar 7 2020 | By More

★★★★☆     Blooms with delights

Traverse: Fri 6 March 2020
Review by Irene Brown

In The Secret Garden, Fife-based Red Bridge Arts has once again given a children’s classic a radical makeover without losing the heart of the original story.

This new version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel is fresher than the coats of paint on the magnificent Scottish landmark, the Forth Rail Bridge, that gives the company its name

Itxaso Moreno. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

The original has stayed in the public mind for over a century, then thanks to several stage and film adaptations, including a new film due for release this April.

This adaptation by theatre-maker Rosalind Sydney, who also co-directs with Ian Cameron, transfers the story from the original Victorian English setting to present day Scotland. While the principal characters are all present, and the core message of a child making a journey of discovery through nature is very much alive, this is a very different beast

Anything smacking of Victoriana has been discarded. In its place is a bewildered, orphaned Mary who is travelling from Spain to stay with her rich widowed uncle in Scotland and is played with an air of thrawn mischief by Basque actress Itxaso Moreno.

no nonsense

On arrival at rule-bound Misselthwaite Manor, she is met by housekeeper Mrs Medlock – who Gavin Jon Wright plays well in a no nonsense way, and confined to her room.

Does she obey? Of course she doesn’t! Her curiosity makes her explore the house and in a loft she finds a key to what is not so much the secret garden but the forbidden one that had been tended by her late aunt, Mrs Craven

Itxaso Moreno and Sarah Miele. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic (3)

Moreno’s feet stamping, rebellious character with her furrowed brows speaks directly to the children in the audience as she vents her frustration in her room. The intense physicality that she brings to the role is a pleasure to observe.

Her interpretation of this new character of Mary is thoroughly relatable to as she brings precise elements of clowning to her movements, under the direction of movement man Robbie Synge.

The portrayal of her initial journey is brilliantly enacted with the clever help of a ladder manipulated by Wright and third cast member Sarah Miele, who also takes on the roles of Martha the maid and of Mary’s overprotected and hypochondriac cousin Colin with equal skill. The timing involved in this and other actions across the performance are immaculate.

ostensibly simple

Karen Tennent’s set – moveable crates and some angled wheeled rectangular shapes – skates the stage to create various scenes to tremendous effect. It is ostensibly simple but of course is actually complex and clever while her use of space is ingenious.

When the beautiful and magical backdrop appears, it gives a deceptive depth to the stage as Mary and her new pal Dickon, the Dr Doolittle of the Misselthwaite estate also played convincingly by Wright, discover Mrs Craven’s garden. Add to this the effective sounds of weather and gorgeous birdsong from Danny Krass and you have a visual and aural treat

This study of a child blossoming from loneliness to inclusion through friendship and the appreciation of nature is a prize of a show smattered with some cheeky audience engagement. As a bonus, Red Bridge Arts have donned their linguistic green wellies by giving the creative team cheeky wee horticultural names on the seeded paper programme

A fabulous package all round.

Running time: One hour ten minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Friday 6 March 2020
Once performance: 6 pm
Run ended.

On Tour

The Brunton, Musselburgh. Phone: 0131 665 2240
Sat 7 Mar, 2pm
Tickets and details:

Macrobert, Stirling. Phone: 01786 466 666
Sun 8 Mar, 2pm
Tickets and details:

Gavin Jon Wright, Itxaso Moreno and Sarah Miele. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic


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  1. Katie Kreitzer says:

    I am wondering if the rights are available for Rosalind Sydney’s adaptation of The Secret Garden.