Adelaide Fringe

Review: The Secret Garden

secretgarden_webposterPresented by the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of South Australia

Reviewed Friday 1st February 2013

The Society are starting their year with this classic children’s story, originally intended for adults and published in 1910 in serial form in The American Magazine. Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, it was then published as a book in 1911. This musical premièred in 1991 and has won, or been nominated for many awards.

The first month of this year brought forth some excellent performances, and February is continuing that trend with this superb production. Such is the quality of this musical that several professional singers were willing to give up their time just to be a part of this amateur production. This is amateur only in the sense that nobody is paid, but the presentation is what one would expect from a well-funded professional production.

This is the third time that Richard Trevaskis has directed this musical and no doubt that experience had much to do with the excellence of this production. Musical Director, Daniel Brunner, has combined a fine live orchestra with electronically generated instrumental sounds, and he has done a terrific job with the singers as well.

A cholera epidemic has left ten year old Mary Lennox an orphan, and she is shipped from India to the Yorkshire moors and the 500 year old Misselthwaite Manor, the home of her widowed uncle, Archibald Craven. Archibald has been a recluse since his wife, Lily, died ten years earlier, giving birth to their son, Colin. Colin’s existence is only one of the secrets in the house and grounds that Mary is unaware of, but not for long.

There is also the walled garden, which was Lily’s creation, that has been kept locked since her death, and entry has been forbidden to all. Defying the housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, Archibald’s devious brother, Dr. Neville Craven, who treats Colin, and aided and abetted by the chambermaid, Martha Sowerby, and her brother, Dickon, as well as the gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, Mary finds the hidden key, unlocks the door to the secret garden, and begins to restore it.

Eleven year old Laura Williams (alternating with Nadia Barrow) gives an amazing performance as Mary. This is a massive challenge for such a young performer, hardly ever off stage and with some very difficult songs, as well as the emotional requirements. This outstanding young lady is an absolute delight as Mary, capturing the hearts of the audience and giving a moving and convincing performance in the role. She has a big future ahead of her.

Carolyn Ferrie played Lily Craven, opposite Anthony Warlow as Archibald, in the original Australian production. It is easy to why she won that role, watching her in this production. She has a beautifully clear and expressive voice and completely embodies both the feel of the period and the gentle traits of the character of Lily.

Local professional opera singer, Mark Oates, takes the role of Archibald, wearing his sadness like a mantle. Oates has the sympathy of the audience working for Archibald right from the start in what must be his finest performance to date. He finds the very core of Archibald and subtly expresses his emptiness such that his final scene of transformation is all the more moving.

Jack Raftopoulos (alternating with Harry Fiedler) plays Colin, initially petulant and demanding, then becoming positive and radiant under the influence of Mary. This young actor masterfully conveys the contrast between the bedridden boy, who expects to die at any time, and the exuberant activity at the end of the performance.

Andrew Crispe, who maintains a convincing air of austerity, authority, and a barely hidden avarice, throughout the performance, plays Dr. Neville Craven, and Anne Doherty, as Mrs. Medlock, has an air of authority and austerity well suited to the role. Sarah Nagy is wonderfully warm and motherly as Martha, whilst Ian Andrew adds a nice touch of mystery to the role of Dickon, who has a strong connection with the natural world, and David Rapkin gives Ben a warmly bucolic characterisation. There are another dozen performers playing the spirits, all of whom are to be congratulated on the quality of their performances.

Lily Chester’s minimalist set, combined with Daniel Barber’s lighting design, convey both time and location effectively, and Gigi D’angelo’s costumes are stunning. There is just so much to like about this family friendly production. Take the kids and take the grandparents. The season is, unfortunately, very short, so rush to get your tickets before it is too late.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

G&S Society web site

G&S Facebook page

Production Facebook page

Venue: Arts Theatre, 53 Angas Street, Adelaide

Season: to Saturday 9th February 2013

Duration: 2hrs plus 20min interval

Tickets: Adults $35/children $19

Bookings: Paula on 8447 7239 or on line here.

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