Tag Archives: Ita O’Brien



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



Click here to see our Recommended Shows page


The Censor

Hope Theatre

The Censor

The Censor

Hope Theatre

Reviewed – 27th June 2019



“As much as round RoundPeg tries to revitalise this unsettling play, it feels heavy handed and melodramatic”


Art or porn? That is the question. Anthony Neilson’s controversial play The Censor, makes a London comeback to explore all things taboo. Female-driven RoundPeg Theatre, responsible for its return, try taking a feminist stance on the work’s gender power play. Yet it’s difficult to tell if the fault lies with the writing, the performances or direction in not fully achieving the desired affect, making this production quite unbearable at times to watch (and that’s not the extremely close-up explicit content).

A female film director finds herself in the office of a censor, a man whose decision determines whether her work will be given the green light for release. Due to the film’s highly pornographic nature, the censor point blank writes it off as a no go, but can Miss Fontaine convince him to see beyond the images and at its artistic dissection of humanity instead? As she tries to educate him past the black and white and into the grey areas, more unravels about the censor’s personal life and the repressed feelings he’s held back.

The two female roles, Miss Fontaine and the censor’s wife, in particular, feel very one dimensional. As mentioned previously, it’s difficult to tell whether it’s the writing or the performances that don’t quite work. I feel it’s a little of both. Chandrika Chevli as The Wife is far too underused and whose brief moments on stage with Jonathan McGarrity seem fruitless. It would be more interesting to see their relationship developed further. Suzy Whitefield’s turn as the allusive Miss Fontaine can often come across forced whilst McGarrity as the censor lacks a sense of authority to initially clash and then be overruled by Miss Fontaine’s dominance.

The twenty-two year old play does feel aged in certain ways. Due to the growth of explicit images surrounding us and being easily accessible, the ‘scenes of a sexual nature’ in The Censor seem to have lost their potency. Undeniably there is still a certain frisson in having such acts simulated live, particularly the infamous defecation scene, but overall our desensitisation to the like, has made it far less shocking than back in 1997 when first staged.

The projection screens to the corners of the space, showing the erotic, semi-graphic scenes from ‘the film’ could have been used with far more powerful intention. It does help to set the dark, ambiguous atmosphere but ends up feeling monotonous and ineffectual as generally the same brief clip repeats for denoting transitions or sexual acts on stage.

As much as round RoundPeg tries to revitalise this unsettling play, it feels heavy handed and melodramatic. Although there are certainly problems with the writing itself, such as questionable character actions or improbable situations that occur, the more interesting questions that Neilson does raise feels undeveloped and not presented clearly enough by the company.


Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Lidia Crisafulli


The Censor

Hope Theatre until 13th July


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Gilded Butterflies | ★★ | November 2018
Head-rot Holiday | ★★★★ | November 2018
Alternativity | ★★★★ | December 2018
In Conversation With Graham Norton | ★★★ | January 2019
The Ruffian On The Stair | ★★★★ | January 2019
Getting Over Everest | ★★★ | April 2019
Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story | ★★★★★ | April 2019
Uncle Vanya | ★★★★ | April 2019
True Colours | ★★★★ | May 2019
Cuttings | ★★★½ | June 2019


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com