Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Youth Panel Review: The Secret Garden

Frances Hodgson Burnett adapted by Janys Chambers
Octagon Youth Theatre and Octagon Artistic Team
Octagon Theatre
11 August 2016 to 13 August 2016

Whilst some local theatres are slumbering towards the end of the summer season, The Octagon in Bolton has been coming alive with their ambitious summer Youth Theatre production The Secret Garden. Featuring a cast of 80 young people and with a limited rehearsal time of just three weeks, the Octagon Artistic Team have certainly not been resting on their laurels.

The new adaptation by Janys Chambers transports this childhood favourite from page to stage. The audience follows Mary Lennox, a sallow and spoilt little girl who is brought to Yorkshire from India after the sudden demise of her parents. Although the new script simplifies the story to make it accessible to a younger cast and audience, it has not lost any of the magic, charm and humour of the original novel. The young actors involved in the production work tirelessly to transport the audience into the pages of a celebrated classic. The large cast are supported by a cast of professional actors in four pivotal roles.

The Secret Garden does not usually feature a large cast. However this production explores the roles of minor characters and enables multiple actors to play the same character. It cleverly allows 80 young people to share the limelight and reflects a powerful theme of the text as the audience literally watch Mary grow before their eyes. A particular favourite character addition is the brilliantly assembled menagerie of wild animals. Including a sassy and talkative Robin Red Breast, who is desperately looking for true love.

Six young actresses bloom in the role of Mary Lennox, gracefully swapping roles and setting the pace for other character substitutions throughout the performance. It is a bold and brilliant decision to allow all six Marys to step through the strands of ivy and discover the garden together. In sharing this space together the audience is allowed a glimpse into the wealth of theatrical talent present in the Octagon Youth Theatre.

The performance benefits from a simplified set allowing the actors themselves to create wonderful scene changes. With a fantastic use of props the cast create numerous locations, including baskets and bric-a-brac to build a ship and a horse drawn carriage, and an inspired illusion of a large country estate with picture frames lining the corridors.

The Octagon Artistic Team and the 80 young people involved in The Secret Garden have created a blossoming performance that demonstrates how flexible that “little bit of earth” can be if you add a little bit of magic.

Reviewer: Harriet Mallion


Comment by Georgina Wells

I totally agree with Harriet's praise for this production - it's a real tribute to community spirit, with its inclusive casting and democratic sharing of parts.

The moving final scene, which sees Colin and his father reunite, is made even more touching by having the entire cast flood onto the stage carrying plants and flowers, surrounding the main characters and bringing the garden to life. A perfect conclusion.