Tag Archives: Anna Himali Howard



Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

THE SECRET GARDEN at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre


“With a strong ensemble cast directed tightly by Anna Himali Howard the first act was a delight”

A normal child would cry but Mary Lennox is not a “normal child” as we discover in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel, The Secret Garden, in this new stage version by Holly Robinson and Anna Himali Howard.

1903 during the British Raj, is where we meet the 10-year-old Mary, ignored by her glittering parents; as her Indian mother and British army father party hard, living their colonial life – and literally dying overnight as they chose to ignore the “unimportant” servants dying of the cholera spreading through their house.

The orphaned Mary is unceremoniously shipped to England to live in her uncle’s stately home on the Yorkshire Moors. A broken-hearted house that is full of secrets, which the staff are not very good at keeping hidden from the tenacious and contrary Mary.

Left to make her own entertainment, Mary discovers a secret garden with the help of a friendly robin. Overgrown and unloved for years, it is a forbidden garden. And so, begins the enduring tale of broken hearts healed through nature as all learn how, with the right tending and care, they can bloom and be loved, like the garden.

In what should have been the perfect setting for The Secret Garden, in the open air with nature all around, the production does not deliver on the expected magic as the secret garden grows and thrives – and does not use the natural setting.

The set designed by Leslie Travers starts off so beautifully but by the time the clunky dark earth filled empty flower beds on squeaking iron wheels are pushed onstage; and seeing the not-disabled friendly secret door into the garden fail to fit Colin and their wheelchair through it, making the character + chair go through the “wall”, rather than go through the actual secret door into the secret garden, the magic has disappeared. The Indian paper chains and flowers were pretty but not enough to be magical, and the lovely Indian inspired powder paint thrown onto the back of the set was too little and too late in the show – and could not be seen by most of the audience.

There is magic in the creation of the robin played beautifully by Sharan Phull from the moment she pops up on top of the very high garden wall and charms with Indian song and dance, with a hennaed red breast on each of her hands, used as the sweet robin flittering from branch to branch. And for me, true open air theatre magic happened as a real robin decided to watch stage left on the speaker!

Other puppetry was made from transforming a black shawl into a crow, a fur stole into a grey squirrel and a jumper to a fox, lovingly played by the cast.

Richard Clews as the old loyal gardener Ben Weatherstaff and Amanda Hadingue as Mrs Medlock, in this production, a not quite so formidable housekeeper, are both classic perfect performances. Molly Hewitt-Richards as Martha has laugh out loud moments of natural comedy in her performance. And the word moor, pronounced “moo-er” by all three with their strong Yorkshire accent, is used to amusing effect throughout.

With a strong ensemble cast directed tightly by Anna Himali Howard the first act was a delight.

But the second act rambled by bringing in to play new storylines including a new love development between Colin and Dicken; and an AWOL aunt Padma (sister to both Mary and Colin’s dead mothers) joining the children in the secret garden, which again somewhat breaks the spell of who enters the garden to help everything grow.

There was a tacit point to introducing this new character, as the three Indian sisters had clearly chosen different paths, two by marrying rich Englishmen as both Mary and Colin’s dead mothers had; or fighting against the British Raj as Aunt Padma (Archana Ramaswamy) appears to have done.

This production attempts to show harsh differences between upper and lower classes, a hard call to mix into The Secret Garden. Colin (Theo Angel) must come to terms with the realisation that he will never walk and will always be in a wheelchair. So how could his disabled father Lord Craven (Jack Humphrey) ever love him, as his father is only interested in searching the world to find a cure for his son? Colin’s uncle Dr Craven (George Fletcher) also has a disability – the upper classes hide away disability. And then there is happy Dicken (Brydie Service) who uses a walking stick, yet everyone loves him, and he is called magical….

The script focuses on all the various characters’ disabilities – and the denouement of this production is that it is alright “not to be perfect” – but ultimately it is the parents who are to blame, depending on how they treat disabilities and differences when their offspring are young. Perfectly Harsh.

The star of the night is Hannah Khalique-Frown as Mary Lennox, playing this complex child with complete believability, rarely seen when an adult plays a 10-year-old. And by the end of The Secret Garden, you believe that her Mary cries real tears, as any loved normal child would.


THE SECRET GARDEN at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Reviewed on 25th June 2024

by Debbie Rich

Photography by Alex Brenner








Previously reviewed at this venue:

TWELFTH NIGHT | ★★★★★ | May 2024
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES | ★★★★★ | August 2023
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND | ★★★★ | May 2023
LEGALLY BLONDE | ★★★ | May 2022
ROMEO AND JULIET | ★★★★ | June 2021



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I Wanna Be Yours


Bush Theatre

I Wanna Be Yours

I Wanna Be Yours

Bush Theatre

Reviewed – 6th December 2019



“a script filled with warmth and humour that’s not afraid to tackle complex issues with nuance and maturity”


Spend more than a few minutes on Twitter and you’ll no doubt be confronted by a bevy of hot takes on attitudes to race in current society. And while they raise a number of crucial questions and issues, they can often feel intangible. Thankfully, Zia Ahmed’s I Wanna Be Yours is here to cut through the social media academia and let the ideas play themselves out in a fundamentally human and earnest way.

I Wanna Be Yours follows a blossoming romance between struggling actor Ella (Emily Stott) and struggling poet Haseeb (Ragevan Vasan), and the wider societal and cultural hurdles that they have to overcome in trying to make it work as an inter-racial couple. Events such as meeting your partner’s family for the first time that are already nerve-wracking take on a whole other level as Ella faces rejection from Haseeb’s aunt on account of being white and Haseeb has to stomach the entrenched racism in Ella’s family that has gone previously unchecked. However, these instances are largely not treated with the heaviness that is frequently seen when this subject matter is depicted – Ahmed is smartly selective in when to intensify the gravity and when to revel in the absurdity of other moments, such as Ella’s frantic Google search as to whether the black face paint used in Mummers’ Plays had racist origins or not. The result is a script filled with warmth and humour that’s not afraid to tackle complex issues with nuance and maturity.

Ahmed’s script also introduces a few surreal elements into the story, particularly one featuring a very literal elephant in the room, but they unfortunately feel half-baked and not fully committed to, culminating in an ending that tries to tie these elements together but consequently doesn’t feel as meaningful as it could have. The pacing also suffers from the themes and ideas not feeling like they’re being especially expanded upon in the second half of the play, and certain conflicts feel a little forced. However, one element which almost consistently endears is the relationship between Ella and Haseeb.

Both Stott and Vasan display a masterful characterisation of the text, fleshing out texture and colour in every line. Under the kinetic direction of Anna Himali Howard, their dynamism fully inhabited the space, which was bare save for an inexplicable carpet that looked like it had been stolen from the home of someone’s gran. Out-of-place carpets aside, the chemistry between the two was able to strike the difficult balance between them clearly exuding their love for each other without excluding the audience.

This is in part due to that Stott and Vasan were not so much a couple as a throuple, being joined throughout the play by Rachael Merry as an integrated BSL interpreter, who frequently enhanced the language and characterisation in the way her interpretation also served to physicalise the subtext and bring further layers to the experience. I Wanna Be Yours has many beautiful, cheeky, and hard-hitting moments, and it is undeniably exemplary in its accessibility, but the sum of its parts struggles to fully engage.


Reviewed by Ethan Doyle

Photography by The Other Richard


I Wanna Be Yours

Bush Theatre until 18th January


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Class | ★★★★ | May 2019
Strange Fruit | ★★★★ | June 2019
Rust | ★★★★ | July 2019
The Arrival | ★★★★ | November 2019


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