Brighton Fringe 2010
The Secret Garden
Open Door Enter
Venue: Regency Town House
The basement of the Regency Town House is a well chosen setting for this imaginative piece of immersive theatre based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’. The concept of the piece is beautifully expressed through the integrated design of sound, lighting, props and magically crafted theatrical spaces. The whole basement becomes almost a character in the story as a series of well adapted scenes from the novel are enacted by a strong cast.
As the audience enters this version of Misselthwaite Manor, most of the rooms are closed off and those that aren’t are sparse, barely lit and unwelcoming. An unseen clock ticks heavily and the sound seems to come from every wall.
Almost immediately we meet Mary Lennox, orphaned and sent from India to live in this cold Yorkshire house. Amy Arnell played Mary on the day I visited and in her downcast stillness she expressed a strong sense of Mary’s withdrawn response to this strange new environment. The housekeeper Martha (Alison Poole), cheerfully voluble as she tries to help Mary to feel at home, highlights Mary’s alienation all the more.
Doors bang in the distance, trolleys trundle through the stone-floored corridor, voices are heard and the disturbing sound of a child crying or calling echoes through the basement.
Despite herself Mary begins to explore her new environment, as does the audience, encountering along the way Lord Craven, the bedridden Colin Craven and mementoes of Lady Craven in her untouched room that Mary enters behind dark gauze. Scenes from the novel are presented not so much to convey a complex plot as to take the audience on an emotional journey from grief towards hope for the future.
Mark Katz plays the depressed Lord Craven with a stiff, inward bearing and abrupt manner, as though any attempt to connect with others causes him physical pain. Declan Mason plays his son, similarly low in energy at first and wondering aloud if he will die soon. Encouraged by Martha, Mary begins to connect people and open up new spaces, especially the garden which is overgrown at first and then leafy and full of light. The audience watches through an open window as Mary and Colin play together around the trees in the leafy, sunlit garden (a masterpiece of low-tech design).
Towards the end Alison Poole is involved in an inspired piece of doubling that not only enables Lord Craven to come to terms with his grief, but also reflects on Martha’s earlier observations about her status in the household.
Audiences are restricted in size for this promenade performance and inevitably become aware of each other’s responses. On my visit there were two small children amongst the adults in the group who quickly shed their nervousness in the dark and displayed a magical enjoyment of the story – total immersion.
The programme notes state that Titania, Dan and Alan of Open Door Enter have produced this piece with no external investment. If there are any sponsors out there looking for a worthwhile investment, go and see this production before it finishes. With or without your children.
Very highly recommended.