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Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel The Secret Garden has been adapted many times for stage and screen and the Shaw Festival has staged its own version for the current season. The adaptation by Jay Turvey and Paul Sportelli is called A Play with Songs and they use, with two exceptions, traditional melodies to perhaps enhance or illustrate the moving story.
Mary Lennox (Gabriella Sundbar Singh) is a 10-year-old orphan raised in India in the days of the British Empire but arriving in England to be raised by an uncle. Her well-off parents died of cholera in India and the spoiled Mary is thrust into a new world in England where she does not have servants to cater to her every whim. She hates her uncle’s (David Alan Anderson) country house in Yorkshire and must adjust to the new natural and human environment that she lives in.
She will make friends and grow up as she must, after all the play is based on a children’s book and a happy ending is de rigueur. Mary does find friends in nature and people. Colin (Gryphyn Karimloo) is her uncle’s son, a neglected boy confined to his rooms in the mansion and unable to walk. He is “disabled” physically and emotionally the way Mary herself is. She befriends Martha (Jacqueline Thair) and her brother, the sympathetic Dickon (Drew Plummer), a young country bumkin boy with a special talent when it comes to animals.
There is a secret garden on the estate that is full of beauty, magic and healing powers. The birds sing, the flowers grow and there is beauty in nature as well as people that will heal the two friends. Tama Martin plays a tireless Robin that is ever-present and beautiful.
The production is called, as I said, A Play with Songs and the program lists eighteen titles parts of which are sung by indifferent voices accompanied by a Musical Quintet. The first song is “Whither Must I Wander” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It expresses bleakness and hopelessness for the wanderer. This is not what The Secret Garden is about. On the contrary.
The second song is “Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary” and it mentions a garden but how it relates to the play – well, you figure it out. “Up In The Morning Early” by Robert Burns expresses reluctance to get up (may apply to Mary’s early days in Yorkshire) but do we need a song to tell us that? “Scarborough Fair” is about a lost love that the singer wants to reconcile with. You can stretch it to apply to Mary’s uncle who lost his wife while giving birth to Colin but looking for her at Scarborough Fair is a stretch and with this and the rest of the songs what do they add to the play?
I will not bore you with reference to all the songs but will mention the penultimate song “Hail, Smiling Morn” which is a tribute to the morning light “whose rosy fingers open wide the gates of heaven.” That is pure optimism and perhaps where the play should end.
But the final song is “The Water is Wide” and the lyrics state that love is “The sweetest flower when first it's new/ But love grows old and waxes cold/ And fades away like morning dew.” That is a cynical view of love and is that the message that Turvey and Sportelli want to convey?
I admit that Turvey and Sportelli’s approach to the adaptation of the novel into “A Play with Songs” did not resonate with me but the actors deserve praise, and I will express it. Singh is a grownup woman, of course, and she does fine work as the bratty kid who develops into a sympathetic person. Gryphyn Karimloo as the bitter and bedridden Colin develops well into a decent teenager, I assume.
Anderson as Archibald and Dr, Craven is authoritarian in the patriarchal tradition, and we don’t like the characters, but we admire the actor. It is a well-acted production spoiled by the adapters.
Beyata Hackborn’s sets are adequate, but the neutral review may not take into account the financial resources required for something more elaborate. The famous Yorkshire moors looked like a blank screen and there are limitations on our view of the magic secret garden.
The costumes by Judith Bowden reflect Edwardian era attire from the gardener to the maids to the well-to-to people of the era.
The Secret Garden by Jay Turvey and Paul Sportelli adapted from the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett continues in repertory until Oct. 13, 2024, at the Shaw Festival’s Royal George Theatre, 85 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Drew Plummer, David Adams, Gryphyn Karimloo and Gabriella Sundar Singh in The Secret Garden. Photo by Michael Cooper.

July 5, 2024
Cultural - Κριτική Καλών Τεχνών

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