Tag Archives: Richard Clews



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 Country Wife – 3 Stars


The Country Wife

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 4th April 2018


“oozing with glamour and style”


Sex and its politics have been the centre of art for centuries, which is well proven with William Wycherley’s classic Restoration play, The Country Wife. First seen in 1675, it was deemed so risqué and vulgar that it wasn’t put back on stage for centuries. Morphic Graffiti’s new adaptation of the play transports it from the 17th century into the Roaring Twenties, setting it among the carefree, party-going spirit of the Bright Young Things. This change in time works well, now oozing with glamour and style, yet, with all its dandy dressing and sumptuous sets, it hardly leaves you hot under the collar. It’s silly, sordid, fun, amalgamating into a Carry On-cum-Downton-cum-EastEnders affair.

Restoration comedies are tricky (and lengthy) ones to sit through, with their convoluted plots, long-winded dialogue, interchanging characters and moral principles that seem prehistoric to modern audiences. However, Morphic Graffiti have tried their best in making this version of The Country Wife accessible, particularly to the young. Eking out as many modern double entendres they can find, plus, using pop songs reproduced in the style of a Twenties Jazz band, does become repetitive and stale as they push the contemporary boat out as far as they possibly can.

Director Luke Fredericks succeeds in focusing on the unleashing of female desires, therefore, sidestepping over the more unpleasant misogynistic undertones to the original text. Using the sexual freedom of the flapper girls in the 1920s as the historical context, the women of this production are confident, not letting anyone stop them from getting what they want. Especially their husbands. From the sultry femme fatale Alithea (Siubhan Harrison), to the rampant Lady Fidget (Sarah Lam), and even the minx-like Margery Pinchwife (Nancy Sullivan) the ‘country wife’ of the title, they all have sexual appetites to be fed. Notorious womaniser Harry Horner (Eddie Eyre) is the one to fulfil their needs. Claiming himself to have been castrated whilst in France, it leaves husbands falsely unworried to leave their society wives alone in his company.

With a mix of deception, disguise and plenty of debauchery, this farcical tale is a whirlwind adventure, often feeling as jumpy as the cocaine trip that Horner’s sidekick Dorilant (Joshua Hill) constantly seems to be on. The mismatch of performance styles is clunky and confusing, with some actors taking a more classical approach, such as Richard Clews as the cuckolded Mr Pinchwife, whilst Eyre as Harry Horner could be a Jack the lad member of TOWIE. Nevertheless, there are plenty of laugh out loud moments in this production, and the cast certainly bring an explosive energy, with their wonderfully choreographed musical scene changes being a particular highlight.


Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Darren Bell


The Country Wife

Southwark Playhouse until 21st April



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