Tag Archives: Gurkiran Kaur



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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Trojan Horse


Battersea Arts Centre

Trojan Horse

Trojan Horse

Battersea Arts Centre

Reviewed – 6th November 2019



“an essential piece of theatre that tells a story that deserved to be told long ago”


The Trojan Horse inquiry began as a counter-terrorism operation and ended as a symbol for modern Britain’s barely concealed Islamophobia. Spurred on by an anonymous letter, which detailed conservative Muslims plotting to “take over” Birmingham schools, education secretary Michael Gove took action, launching not only inquiries, but a sense of hysteria that was fed by a biased media.

Five years later it is widely accepted that this letter was a hoax, the planned takeover fictional, and the schools – far from breeding terrorism – were quite the opposite of extremist. But what of the teachers, suspended and under surveillance? What about the students who were caught in the crossfire? Birmingham City Council, disgruntled head teachers, worried parents, school governors – what do their lives look like now?

Based on 200 hours of interviews, LUNG Theatre answer these questions by asking us to relive Trojan Horse from the inside. What begins as a tale of redemption – a failing school turned around, teachers inspiring and students prospering – quickly devolves into a nightmare that is hard to endure and even harder to pull back from.

Five actors bring a fascinating group of characters to life. Rashid (Mustafa Chaudhry), who left school without any GCSEs, teaches Urdu at Park View, his life having been changed by school governor Tahir Alam (Qasim Mahmood). Alam is credited with having turned local schools around, allowing students like Farah (Gurkiran Kaur) to have hope that they can pursue success outside of Alum Rock. Former head teacher Elaine Buckley (Keshini Misha) is less than complimentary of Alam. Buckley claims she was forced out of her old school for refusing to bend to the will of parents and governors. She raises her concerns with Jess (Komal Amin) at Birmingham City Council; the anonymous letter arrives on Jess’ desk days later, giving Elaine the ammunition she needs. Though they are undoubtedly amalgamations of many people, these feel like whole characters, rather than representations of a certain viewpoint. This is thanks to the purposeful performances of the actors, particularly Mahmood’s unflinchingly honest Rashid and Misha’s vitriolic Buckley.

Once the letter leaks, the community crumbles under the weight of the controversy. School is no longer enjoyable: the students are subject to government surveillance and head counts of hijab wearers. Rashid is not an inspirational teacher, but a dangerous facilitator, and Tahir Alam his sinister leader. Hinge-top desks are wheeled around the stage to create classrooms and courtrooms, until we have no choice but to associate the two.

It is impossible not to watch and feel anger, above all else. Despite the inevitable conclusion, this is not a play where the audience leaves limp, their heads bowed with sadness. This is not a play that asks us to observe its content, clap politely, and go home. This is a play that demands action.

Trojan Horse is an essential piece of theatre that tells a story that deserved to be told long ago. Here I do my bit to transmit this story, to raise my small voice and ask that everyone that reads this go and see it. And, when the play goes to the Houses of Parliament in January 2020, I ask that everyone at Westminster – from the Prime Minister to the lowest government employee – do themselves the favour of watching and learning, not only about the power of the arts to tell stories, but from the mistakes of the past decade, in the hope that they will not be repeated in the next.


Reviewed by Harriet Corke

Photography by Ant Robling


Trojan Horse

Battersea Arts Centre until 16th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
How to Survive a Post-Truth Apocalypse | ★★★ | May 2018
Rendezvous in Bratislava | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Dressed | ★★★★★ | February 2019
Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Status | ★★★½ | April 2019
Woke | ★★★ | June 2019
Now Is Time To Say Nothing | ★★★★ | October 2019


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