The Secret Garden

Time of article published Jun 22, 2006

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Director: Joyce Levinsohn

Musical director: Kevin Feather

Cast: Deborah Vieyra, Claudine Marais, Quintin Collett, Tatjana Grabow, Richard Mayes, Schoeman Smit

Where: National Children's Theatre, Braamfontein

When: Monday to Saturday 10.30am and 2.30pm until July 29. Book at the theatre on 011-484-1577

The Secret Garden has been a favourite of mine since I was a child and I was curious to see how Joyce Levinsohn could translate it to the stage - and a very small stage at that - while both retaining the storyline and enough of the nuances and charm to make it worthwhile.

She did. Not only that, but she added an extra dimension.

The set is simple - stone pillars, stone benches and lighting effects to suggest either the formal windows of the mansion or the shady green of the garden. Sound effects conjure up the wind howling over the bare, lonely moor.

Another daring move was to use only adults in the cast. I was taken aback at first. Mary is a child, so are Colin and Dickon. But as the first scene between Deborah Vieyra as Mrs Medlock and Claudine Marais as Mary got underway I found I was willing to suspend disbelief.

A single false note and the magic would have been lost, but there were no false notes. Marais was Mary - a bit tall, perhaps - but otherwise here was the lonely, contrary Mary of the book.

When Vieyra reappeared in her second role as the ingenuous young housemaid Martha she was even better, the soft Yorkshire accent rippling from her tongue. Most of the dialogue was taken from the book and flows naturally.

Perfect casting and impeccable acting carry the show. The other two "children", Richard Mayes as Dickon and Schoeman Smit as Colin, are also believable.

Quintin Collett appears as the old gardener - a bit of a caricature, a far too handsome Mr Craven and a nonentity of a doctor.

Music weaves through the show, with appropriate songs from the cast members, echoed by the beautiful voice of Tatjana Grabow providing a kind of harmonic subtext, emphasing the loneliness and gradual growth into wholeness of contrary Mary and sickly Colin as they tend their secret garden.

It works. The whole show, although balanced on a knife-edge, works. It is a tribute to the casting, the acting and the sensitive direction.

For the audience it is a daring and utterly engrossing piece of theatre. The children, who were involved in various ways, were absorbed.

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