Home » London Theatre Reviews » The Secret Garden at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre | Review

The Secret Garden at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre | Review

A combination of a beautiful summer’s night, the stunning Regent’s Park, the Open Air Theatre hidden within the park – like a secret garden -and a chance to see the children’s classic The Secret Garden (in a terrific version by Holly Robinson and Anna Himali Howard) make for a truly memorable experience. Site specific plays are becoming all the rage but it’s hard to beat the inspired setting of The Secret Garden in the Open Air Theatre. As I walked from Regent’s Park tube, I crossed the Outer Circle, the Inner Circle and then the holy of holies: the circle of the theatre itself. Talk about wheels within wheels. This is a unique experience that you cannot get on Netflix: it’s only available if you actually go to Regent’s Park. The dappled sunlight streaming through the trees, birds flying across the stage, the soundscape of the park, the setting sun, sitting amidst the tree-lined perimeter is one of London’s most magical and spine-tingling experiences. If you’ve never been before, then I would say, The Secret Garden is the perfect play to see at this incomparable venue.

The Secret Garden at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo credit: Alex Brenner.
The Secret Garden at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Photo credit: Alex Brenner.

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Edward children’s classic is of course a much-loved novel. Up there with Alice in Wonderland and The Railway Children. In a brilliant adaptation writers Holly Robinson and Anna Himali Howard have if anything made it even punchier, crisper, funnier and more moving. They’ve spotted or should I say made explicit themes in the novel that we tend to underappreciate. They draw parallels between cholera in India and Covid, the renewed fascination with gardens and nature during Covid, the neglect of children and the disabled, the confinement of children to their locked rooms and our collective confinement during Covid are all intelligently and sensitively teased out and shown to be as troubling then as now. And above all The Secret Garden shouts from the rooftops the indubitable power of nature to heal. The Secret Garden is the garden as therapy, as healing and as physical, and mental health. Frances Hodgson Burnett knew that in 1910, and post-Covid we all know it to be as profoundly relevant for us in 2024. This Secret Garden is very much a play for today.

The cast, creatives and crew have put together a totally watchable show. The cast are incredibly impressive. Twelve strong they take it in turn to keep up a tremendous cacophony of voices. And what voices. This show revels in accents, idioms and slang. From cut-glass upper-class RP to right broad Yorkshire the spoken word is alive in all its richness. The rendition of the word “Rope” is unforgettable. Phrases are repeated to build tension. Thought bubbles are voiced by other actors to give us an insight to what others are thinking but not saying. Class crossover is hinted at as the young Aristocratic Master Colin Craven (the astoundingly impressive Theo Angel) says “I want to plant sumat“ in broad Yorkshire. Puppetry is creatively deployed to bring animals into the garden. The Anglo – Indian cultural interchange is wonderfully invoked. None more so than in Sharan Phull’s Robin Redbreast. Her Red palm stands for the Robin but also hints at the idea of reincarnation. The child of Anglo-Indian intermarriage Mary Lennox is vividly realised by the super-talented Hannah Khalique-Brown. Molly Hewitt-Richards’ housemaid Martha steals every scene she graces. Not least she illustrates an important theme of the play: the connections between the class hierarchies in both India and England. Superb acting. The costumes are Edwardian which adds greatly to our understanding of the class subtleties of both Anglo-India and the country house culture in England. The set, as I’ve mentioned, is truly magical. Lights and colour are slowly built up to reach a crescendo in the finale. This is undoubtedly the highlight of the summer. Catch it if you can.

5 Star Rating

Review by John O’Brien

The cast includes Theo Angel (Colin), Richard Clews (Ben Weatherstaff), George Fletcher (Dr Craven), Amanda Hadingue (Mrs Medlock), Molly Hewitt-Richards (Martha), Jack Humphrey (Archibald Craven), Avita Jay (Champa), Hannah Khalique-Brown (Mary Lennox), Patrick Osborne (Captain Lennox), Sharan Phull (Lata/The Robin), Archana Ramaswamy (Padma), and Brydie Service (Dickon).

The full creative team includes Dr Priyanka Basu (Consultant Historian and Translator), Laura Cubitt (Puppetry Consultant), Will Dickie (Movement Director), Tingying Dong (Sound Designer), Gillian Greer (Dramaturg), James Hassett (Season Associate Sound Designer), Anna Himali Howard (Director), Polly Jerrold (Casting Director), Mishra Music (Ford Collier and Kate Griffin) (Composer), Jai Morjaria (Lighting Designer), Ita O’Brien (Intimacy Director), Hana Pascal Keegan (Associate Director), Khadija Raza (Costume Designer), Holly Robinson (Writer), Leslie Travers (Set Designer).

THE SECRET GARDEN
By Frances Hodgson Burnett
In a new version by Holly Robinson and Anna Himali Howard
15 June to 20 July 2024
Open Air Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4NU

Author

  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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