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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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The Tempest

The Tempest


Shakespeare’s Globe

The Tempest

The Tempest

Shakespeare’s Globe

Reviewed – 29th July 2022



“we’re perfectly happy to sit a little longer, marvelling at the all-sorts gathered on stage”


The Tempest is so easily, and so often, staged as a play of a single lead character, the mighty Prospero, with a generous sprinkling of small parts dallying around him. But in Sean Holmes’ production, there are no small parts. Each character finds their allies and enemies on stage, and each is the centre of their own story. Perhaps this is due to artistic director Michelle Terry’s idea of a Globe Ensemble: these actors have been working together for what should be a year, but owing to the pandemic is likely closer to two. And the confidences and friendships which have developed give this production a glorious esprit de corps: Whilst Ferdy Roberts has the most lines, he’s just one in a big family.

That being said, Roberts is fabulous as self-important Prospero. De-robing in the first thirty seconds to reveal a very small pair of yellow swimming briefs, he manifests both Prospero’s wild amount of self-confidence and his innate ridiculousness; perhaps he’s unable to laugh at himself, but we have plenty to laugh at.

Having been betrayed by his brother years ago and sent out to sea with his young daughter to near-certain death, Prospero discovers that his brother is now sailing in a wedding party past the desert island he now inhabits. He sends his servant-spirit Ariel to cause a storm and shipwreck the party, scattering them across the island, ripe for vengeful antics.

Whilst Prospero is often described as a sorcerer, under Holmes’ direction, the only magic he appears to have performed is making Ariel feel indebted to him. So, any time he requires magic to be done, there she appears, with a flick of the wrist. Rachel Hannah Clarke is cheeky but resolute as Ariel, enjoying her tasks of playful manipulation, whilst also holding a solemn gaze with Prospero in talks of her freedom.

It’s this balance of playfulness and gravity that dictates the play’s atmosphere. Yes, the stage is filled with swimming inflatables- a lobster, a flamingo- and it feels completely apt that characters should be bewitched to behave like dogs and think they’re Harry Potter, but there is also much loss and betrayal which is somehow still strikingly felt amidst all the hijinks.

Whilst planes overhead often feature ad-libitum at the Globe, Ralph Davis’ perfectly timed screech for help as a plane passes by, is brilliant. In fact, he has quite a few bold moments of ad-libbing (“O, touch me not; I am not Stephano…I’m the boy who lived.”) which feels especially transgressive in a Shakespeare play but works wonderfully.

Ciarán O’Brien’s Caliban, traditionally played as grotesque and feral, is here a stroppy, sheltered teenager, which feels much less problematic and leaves plenty of space for us to think he might very well earn his freedom after the play is done.

By far my favourite moment is the celebratory dance performed by gods and spirits on Prospero’s request as a gift to his daughter Miranda and her betrothed Ferdinand. Maybe ten or fifteen appear, wearing floral-patchworked white jumpsuits, flower crowns and rose-tinted glasses, clutching palm fronds. At first the dance is flat-out bizarre, and soon it becomes overtly sexual as the ‘gods’ hump the air, moving closer and closer to the couple, eventually resulting in what appears to be a group orgasm, much to Prospero’s horror.

Like many of Shakespeare’s comedies, it takes a little too long to wrap up, insisting on accounting for every single character, one after the other. But so much good will has been won by then that we’re perfectly happy to sit a little longer, marvelling at the all-sorts gathered on stage, or gazing up past the Globe’s thatched roof to the clear summer sky.


Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Marc Brenner


The Tempest

Shakespeare’s Globe until 22nd October


Recent shows reviewed by Miriam:

Witness For The Prosecution | ★★★★★ | London County Hall | April 2022
100 Paintings | ★★ | Hope Theatre | May 2022
La Bohème | ★★★½ | King’s Head Theatre | May 2022
Y’Mam | ★★★★ | Soho Theatre | May 2022
The Fellowship | ★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | June 2022
I Can’t Hear You | ★★★★ | Theatre503 | July 2022
The Hive | ★★★ | Hoxton Hall | July 2022
Hungry | ★★★★★ | Soho Theatre | July 2022
Oh Mother | ★★★★ | Soho Theatre | July 2022
An Intervention | ★★★½ | Greenwich Theatre | July 2022


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