1911 Secret Garden Adapted for 2024

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

Frances Hodgson Burnett

2. Hannah Khalique-Brown as Mary Lennox) and Amanda Hadingue as Mrs. Medlock (Photo: by Alex Brenner)

The Set is a high forbidding brick/stone wall with niches holding the promise of candles. We are in India at the time of the Raj. A Party. Upright lean shiny white men parade in their pomp. But… in seconds all these people will be dead, stiffly posed against the wall in rigor mortis. A ten year old girl who never knew what it was to be parented is now officially an orphan. She cries out for her Ayah. Who does not come…

Before the horror sinks in, sole survivor  Mary Lennox (Hannah Khalique-Brown) is magicked away to the ancestral home of her father and uncle in very very remote Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire. Yes, although the sun is shining in Regent’s Park we’re about to see a classic Hard Boiled Children’s story. What could go possibly go right?

Mary is the privileged, but completely neglected to the point of psychopathy, child of wealthy parents. A spoilt, selfish, arrogant, bad tempered to perfection, isolate who goes to bed with her boots on. But we see how she learns to be human with the help of a robin, a hedgehog, a crow, and even – heaven forbid! – close contact with members of the servant class. Once woken, Mary in her turn humanises her even more damaged relatives. Including the tormented cousin Colin (Theo Angel) . . .

Cast. (Photo: Alex Brenner)

So, as in Cold Comfort Farm, and many other parables, girl power sorts out a classically tangled family mess of guilt, shame and secrecy. But Mary could not do it without the help of her new friends and the Secret Garden itself. This is the special place locked away by her despairing autocrat uncle, Lord Craven (Jack Humphrey), who may have been a patient of Sigmund Freud’s. The Garden is especially rich in allegory.

The pace is rather slow at first. The cast jiggle awkwardly to indicate train and coach travel. The over-used aside to the audience: ‘It looked like X was about to say something else…’ is meant to convey mystery and suspense but is merely annoying on the second hearing, let alone the tenth.

But the pace picks up once Mary finds the Garden as, fittingly, a low-flying helicopter passes overhead and Misselthwaite Manor is transformed as the exemplary cast get going. Hannah Khalique-Brown is a determinedly bitter 10 year old who keeps Mary’s anger well stoked until it has to die away. Theo Angel’s Colin achieves a similar feat transforming from the agonised boy-baby whose only inheritance is a death wish, but who is saved by a very special gift. Brydie Service’s Peter Pan-alike Dickon is more than believable, as are Molly Hewitt-Richards’s empathic rope-skipping maid Martha, and Richard Clews’ near-mystic gardener, Ben Weatherstaff. Amanda Hadingue’s housekeeper Mrs Medlock also transitions away from her Mrs Danvers persona.

Patrick Osborne as Captain Lennox and Avita Jay as Champa. (Photo: Alex Brenner)

However new characters strengthen the narrative links with India, animate the all-important Robin and underscore the apotheosis of the Garden itself. Mary and Colin are not only cousins but have Indian mothers. Only Jack Humphrey’s and George Fletcher’s haughty aristocrats seem to belong to another world of privilege, callousness and hauteur. As they do. But when they see how much better life is for the others they cheerfully de-starch themselves to join in. (Blissfully unaware that their own Gotterdammerung is just two years’ away in 1914.)

But the new characters underline the issue of the British exploitation of other lands and stress the importance of accepting ‘difference’. Neither Colin nor Mary ‘belong’ here and are made unwelcome by the family. Both cousins due to their diverse ancestry, but especially Colin because his physical ‘weakness’ makes him an unsuitable scion for a great House. Mary and Dickon liberate him by showing there is more to being human than physical perfection, whatever that is.

Cast in The Secret Garden (Photo: Alex Brenner)

The ‘extra’ characters make the show end with a bang of light and music as the sun goes down. There is Union. There is Acceptance. There is Happiness…

If  I do have a reservation it is about the Garden itself. The Secret Garden pulls everyone together in a dance to share the joy of growth, the Seasons, and Nature itself. We seem to be talking pantheistic hippiedom. But are gardens really the perfect symbol of universal harmony? Just asking…

I have friends who garden and although they don’t admit it to outsiders, it is clear that even secret Gardens are not the effortlessly harmonious places we passers-by idlers might like to think. “The Patagonias are encroaching on the Omphalas. Again! I have firm views over that. Make me a cup of tea while I sharpen my secateurs? I’m going back out there to show them who’s boss!”

Will this production, charming and adroit though it is for the most part, really strike a chord with generations reared on Lion Kings and Frozen Princesses? I hope so.

Theo Angel as Colin and Brydie Service as Dickon (Photo: Alex Brenner)

Production Notes

The Secret Garden

Adapted by Anna Himali Howard, Holly Robinson

After the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Directed by Anna Himali Howard



Amanda Hadingue

Archana Ramaswamy

Avita Jay

George Fletcher

Jack Humphrey

Patrick Osborne

Richard Clews

Sharan Phull

Theo Angel

Molly Hewitt-Richards

Hannah Khalique-Brown

Brydie Service


Director: Anna Himali Howard

Set designer: Leslie Travers
Costume designer: Khadija Raza
Composers: Kate Griffin, Ford Collier
Lighting designer: Jai Morjaria

Sound Designers: Tingying Dong,

James Hassett

Puppetry director: Laura Cubitt


Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval

Booking to 20th July 2024


Open Air Theatre

Inner Circle

Regents Park

London NW1 4NU

Box Office: 0333 400 3562

Tube: Baker Street

Reviewed by Brian Clover

at the Open Air Theatre, Regents Park on 26th June 2024