The Secret Garden (Leatherhead)

The Secret Garden

Sweet and entertaining, Leatherhead Rep’s adaptation of ‘The Secret Garden’ has something for everyone – including a real life dog!

For a girl who loves to read books – and devoured them as a child – I have a surprise admission: I’ve never read Frances Hodgson-Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden.

So with little more than a basic storyline, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this adaptation – the second production in the Leatherhead Spring Rep Season which opened last night (Tues 24 April) at the Leatherhead Theatre.

Was this a play for adults? For children? Or would it transcends age and simply be loved by all. The quick answer to that question is the third one: this will appeal to everyone. Dave Simpson’s musical adaption contains a bit of everything: sadness, hope, triumph and joy. Oh and a real-life dog, who almost steals the show.

The story follows that of 10-year-old Mary Lennox, a sad but spoiled orphaned girl who is sent to live with her uncle – a recluse and hunchback – at Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire moors. It’s always interesting when an adult plays the role of a child – but Lottie Johnson captures Mary’s little-girl qualities well – her innocence and vulnerability, her petulance, and as the story progresses her adventurous and determined spirit.

Bored and inquisitive, Mary explores the Misselthwaite Manor, where she discovers she has a sickly cousin called Colin who’s kept hidden away, and the grounds, where – with the help of a robin – she finds a secret garden which has also been kept locked up. And so, she sets about restoring life and vigour to both.

It’s a musical, but with just 12 songs throughout the entire production, the music is more a subtle accompaniment than a major feature of the show. The set design, too, is kept simple – with a bedroom scene and the garden. And with clever lighting it’s well done.

Fiona Gordon is convincing as the abiding housekeeper Mrs Medlock – complete with Yorkshire accent. And Emma Mulkern is charming as the gawky and giggly housemaid Martha.

Keith Hill steps ably into two roles – that of the affable gardener Ben Weatherstaff and also the stern and rigid Dr Craven, who’s responsible for Colin’s care – and he switches fluidly between the two characters and their accents. It took me a while to realise the characters were played by the same man! (The previous week I saw him as Sir Humphrey in Yes, Prime Minister, which to my mind makes his performances even more impressive.)

Jack Mosedale is brilliant as Jack – nailing the spoiled, sickly child… and his tantrums. Mosedale also provides charming and clever puppetry for the friendly robin.

Peter Steele was unrecognisable from his dual roles in the productions of Yes, Prime Minister last week to Dickon, Martha’s brother last night, and William Hazell, too, was transformed from his previous role as the PM Jim Hacker, to hunchback Mr Craven.

And that’s part of what makes the rep season so amazing and clever. This small company of talented and versatile actors move seamlessly between roles and productions. Next week, they’ll bring Alan Ayckbourne’s Communicating Doors to the stage – and I’m certain this will be another production that’s not to be missed.

But this week it’s The Secret Garden – a sweet and entertaining production that’s well worth booking in to see. With a starting time of 7pm – and a finishing time of 9pm – it’s also perfectly possible to take the kids to this for a mid-week treat.

The Secret Garden’ runs until Sat 28 April at The Leatherhead Theatre, 7 Church Street, Leatherhead, KT22 8DN. Tel: 01372 365141.

And Then There Were None (Stoke)

And Then There Were None was produced by United National Productions Limited, they will be producing further pieces at Stoke Repertory Theatre in 2018. Watch this space…

Star rating: *****

Having reviewed The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre earlier this year, also care of United National Productions Limited, and thoroughly enjoyed the exceptional staging of one of Agatha Christie’s masterpieces – I anticipated great things from their version of And Then There Were None. I was not disappointed, in fact the production blew me away and had me on the edge of my seat with a constant eye on the mantelpiece!

The story chillingly centres around the Ten Little Soldier Boys rhyme and involves ten individuals arriving at a grand house on a remote island in Devon. Aside from the servants (who are married), none of the ten are related to one another or have prior knowledge of one another, or do they? The upshot is that there’s a murderer on the island who knows a piece of information about each one and he’s got a plan. A plan which includes the demise of each soldier figurine as the death toll rises.

In my opinion, it’s one of Christie’s most translatable stories as I have read the book, seen a few television adaptations and now I’ve seen it on stage – none of the mystery, intrigue or tension is lost at any point in any of the versions I’ve encountered. Its testament to Director, Robert Marsden and his cast that this production has lived up to that expectation, though.

There’s a set which lends itself to the comings and going of a fast-paced whodunit and also represents the grandeur of the building to which each ‘soldier’ has been summoned. The lighting provides an eerie tension in itself and the scene transitions are minimal yet seamless.

The cast boasts an impressive ensemble of actors at the top of their game; John Highton has one wondering if it was the butler whodunit with a bizarre air of mystery surrounding him as Thomas Rogers. Deborah Cornock (who impressed me as the murderer in The Hollow) played a timid yet assertive Ethel Rogers. Ashley Andrew was perfectly cast as Vera Claythorne, elegant, occasionally allowing fear to seep through while appearing far too calm considering the circumstances. Chris Wollaton cut a dashing figure as Philip Lombard, flirtatious and flippant, while in contrast, Patricia Jones was quiet, considered and disapproving as Emily Brent. Steve McTigue put in an excellent performance as the troubled General MacKenzie, equally James King was an ideal choice for the short-lived role of Anthony Marston – far too jolly and a speed demon. David Bowen captivated me as William Blore, his energy and verve were spot on and he drew my attention throughout, as did Ray Johnson as Justice Wargrave – a commanding presence indeed. A special mention must go to our Break A Leg Awards nominee Nigel Peever who played Dr Arnstrong. Peever was undoubtedly one of the stars of The Hollow, for me personally and his performance still resonates. However, as Dr Armstrong I felt that he was an even better fit (if that’s possible!) he underplayed his part and brought the character to the fore only when it was necessary.

Five stars for a piece which has become one of the highlights of my theatre critiquing year! Well done United National Theatre Productions Ltd, you’re putting Stoke on the map as a producer of amazing theatre.



The Secret Garden

If I tell you that next week I will almost certainly make the same 60-mile round trip that I have made this evening, simply for the pleasure of seeing the company’s third and final production of the season, you may realise how much I enjoyed this musical version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s well-known story about Mary Lennox, the orphaned child sent from India to live with her uncle in Yorkshire, and the difference she makes to the household there.

Having taken our seats well before the start, we had ample time to study the excellent multi-purpose set, not least its centrepiece of a dead tree with cups and a couple of chairs hanging from it, and various pieces of furniture such as a bookcase, desk and standard lamp strewn around beneath. It may sound strange but it worked perfectly in depicting the various scenes. The only thing I found slightly odd about the set was that although Mary’s bedroom actually had curtains at what one assumes was the window, whenever she was encouraged to look out at the view it was through the opened wardrobe – shades of Narnia, perhaps.

Secret GardenIn the story both Mary and Colin, her cousin, are 10 and Dickon is 12, so for those roles to be played by adults requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Lottie Johnson’s spoilt, selfish Mary had us convinced immediately that she really was a lonely child, especially in her delight that the robin in the garden was singing just for her. Jack Mosedale as the manipulative Colin also has that same quality, while Peter Steele’s sunnily-dispositioned Dickon simply lights up the stage. All three have fine singing voices too.

I see from Clare Samuels’s biography that she is often to be found doing stand-up comedy, and she certainly brings a lovely comic touch to the role of housemaid Martha. Keith Hill’s dual roles of kindly gardener Ben and ‘baddie’ Dr Craven go down a treat, as do Fiona Gordon’s Mrs Medlock and Marcus Patrick’s Mr Craven, but I have to say that when one particular cast member was on stage, her presence was such that every eye was on her. Yes, Dickon’s dog, I’m talking about you. Roll over to have your tummy tickled and the world will love you for it.

With great lighting and absolutely superb sound effects adding those all-important touches, this excellent production – rehearsed in just five days – moved me almost to tears at times and had me laughing out loud at others. No wonder the almost-capacity audience applauded long and loud at the end.

The Secret Garden runs each evening at 7.30pm until 22 August and is followed by The Game’s Afoot from 24 to 29 August.



Bugsy Malone – Milton Keynes Theatre

Book: Alan Parker

Music and Lyrics: Paul Williams

Director: Robert Marsden

Reviewer: Hannah Powell

Friday 4th August sees one hundred youngsters aged 10-21 enthusiastically take to the stage at Milton Keynes Theatre in their rendition of Bugsy Malone, the American gangster play famously performed entirely by a cast of children. The tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the New York mob scene is the latest production by Stage Experience, the theatre’s annual summer scheme which aims to seek out the talented youths of Milton Keynes for the stage. In the space of only twelve days, the cast have been subjected to the highest professional standards working tirelessly with the creative team to produce the show, an incredible achievement for those so young.

The forty-year-old story begins with Dandy Dan’s (Joshua Addington) group of hoodlums terrorising New York with their ‘splurge guns’, hitting mobsters and lawyers alike. When Fat Sam’s (Nathaniel Thomas) Grand Slam Speakeasy comes under threat and his whole gang have been whipped out, he turns to the one man who can help him get to the bottom of this, Bugsy Malone (Jamie Williams). Meanwhile, Blousey Brown (Amy Hales) is looking to make it as a singer, but after being told to always ‘come back tomorrow’ she’s at the end of her rope. Meeting Bugsy gains her a chance at not only her dream but love as well – if only Bugsy can keep his promises and his head.

The set is simple using different levels to display each location such as Fat Sam’s Office and Dandy Dan’s mansion. While it is a shame that at times the stage seems quite cramped, the creativity displayed in creating such spaces must be acknowledged, particularly the use of lighting to create the dangerous car chase through rough terrain.

Each cast member takes to the stage with passion throwing themselves into each dance number and song. Despite a couple of flat notes, the amount of raw emotion put into each song is incredible to see, particularly speakeasy cleaner Fizzy (Daniel Niles) who wows the audience with his soulful voice and elegantly executed dance moves. Hales must also be commended for her vocal talents, showing great control and knowledge of when to change her belting tones into softer more emotional ones.

Runs until 5 August 2017 | Image: Contributed


Cinderella (2015)

Cinderella review at the Victoria Theatre, Halifax – ‘plenty of seasonal magic’

Cinderella at the Victoria Theatre, Halifax

Cinderella at the Victoria Theatre, Halifax

by Roger FossDec 21, 2015 The Stage

This is a lively family pantomime that still believes in fairies. Instead of the semi-comic wand waggler that is fast becoming standard fairy fare, experienced children’s writers Iain Lauchlan and Will Brenton make the Fairy Godmother both a dreamweaver and a catalyst for transformation, climaxing in an expertly choreographed sequence when Ann Micklethwaite’s radiant enchantress summons-up a flying, horse-drawn carriage that takes Cinderella’s downtrodden life in a new direction.

The show adheres to the tradition of the gender-blurring female principal boy. Claire Trusson and Katherine Lunney invest Prince Charming and Dandini with all the right over-the-top, manly swagger. Likewise, Tim Churchill and Steve Fortune’s cosmetically challenged Ugly Sisters, wearing a succession of deranged frocks, are obvious caricatures.

Carly Burns’ Cinderella is certainly no winsome pushover for these two harridans, and Neil Hurst’s jolly Buttons has no trouble drawing the audience into the story. Combining imaginatively staged chorus work with powerful vocals, Robert Marsden’s production easily brings out a clear moral message too – and even includes a fresh twist on the ghost gag.

However, an underpowered slosh scene just looks messy and things tend to flag in the second half, while the cast battle against an ear-grating sound system that probably requires a fairy fix.


Published Monday  3 December 2012 at 11:09 by Neil Bonner The Stage

If the success of a show can be measured by the ebullient enthusiasm of its audience, then Crewe’s Lyceum has a hit on its hands with this production of Cinderella. Authors Lauchlan and Brenton have crafted a panto of old that moves along at a good pace, with effective jokes, local references, a dollop of slapstick and ample room for audience participation.

Ste Johnston works his socks off as a cheeky, lovable Buttons, bang on the mark with his comedic timing, antics and sheer energy. His brilliant ‘kids on stage’ and group singing interlude are richly rewarded by much laughter.

With Paul Morse and Ian Ganderton as the splendidly obnoxious ugly sisters Flatula and Verucca, we have two wonderfully talented actors at the peak of their dame careers. Strangely alluring in some magnificent costumes, they strut their stuff admirably.

Gemma Rees as a lovely, believable Cinderella partners effectively with Julia Cave’s dashing Prince Charming and the duo produce some strong singing. Add the classic magic of Helen Watson’s fairy godmother, sparkling sets and a pumpkin that turns into a glittering coach and the fairytale is complete.

Director Robert Marsden and his team deliver on all counts and the result is a refreshingly traditional pantomime that adds much merriment and a warm glow to the festive season.


Cinderella,  Crewe Lyceum Theatre

CINDERELLA is a story that  needs no introduction.

  1. SPELL: Fairy Godmother Helen Watson and Gemma Rees as Cinderella.

    SPELL: Fairy Godmother Helen Watson and Gemma Rees as Cinderella.

It is performed at theatres throughout the country every Christmas to packed houses, and with this production its easy to see why.

The cast might not boast  an   A-list celebrity  but they all deserve to be.  Helen Watson, who plays the Fairy Godmother, is the first on stage  and uses the usual pantomime rhyme and humour to great effect to warm the audience up.

Cinderella is played by Gemma Rees, a newcomer to the Lyceum, who looks like she was born to play the role.  Her vocal performances left  the audience mesmerised as her voice glided  around the beautiful interior of the theatre and her portrayal of Cinderella was  one of the most convincing you will see.

Ste Johnston will be a familiar name to most people  because this is his third year at the Lyceum and its  apparent why.  From his opening joke he had the audience hanging on his every word.

Buttons is always a loveable character but Ste takes it to a  new level as the audience enthusiastically welcomed him to the stage every time.

Ian Ganderton, voted one of the 10  best Dames in Britain, and Paul Morse  excelled as the Ugly Sisters with  personalities  as flamboyant as their outfits.

The musical number they shared together in the second-half  was one of the highlights of the show and the chemistry the two share made   the story even more believable.

Combining the writing skills of Iain Lauchlan and Will Brenton with the direction of Robert Marsden was always going to create a great show but this one excels even by their standards.

The  production is a laugh-a-minute production for the entire family.

The lavish sets and beautiful music make this one of the best pantomimes to have graced the Lyceum stage in recent years.

The Lyceum uses its cheap prices as a key marketing strategy but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a cheap production.

If you want a treat  the entire family will enjoy then this is the pantomime for you

The show runs until December 31. To book tickets call 01270 686777.


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