I was very much looking forward to returning to reviewing after the COVID-19 enforced break that many local and national theatres had to endure. It was great to be returning to Poulner Players, who I note from the programme are celebrating 47 years of performing in the Ringwood area in 2022, no mean feat for any drama group!
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett needs no introduction as a story. This well-loved British classic has been gracing theatre stages, the small screen and bookshops for years. The endless magical story of friendship, revitalisation and the enduring power of gardens. Poulner Players’ version had been adapted by their very own Sally Whyte, who directed the piece as well which I am sure was a challenge for both Sally and the cast!
This version of The Secret Garden was a break with the traditional Edwardian story and was a combination of the modern era with twists of the past. The play needs a very strong actress as the young Mary Lennox, who is forced to move from India when her parents die. Lucy Taylor does very well indeed in the lead and throughout the performance is word sure, confident and gets right underneath the part. She is very well supported by Harriet Cairnes as Mrs Medlock, who brings a nice directness into the part. There was a very strong performance too from Teresa Miller as Colin, (although I think she was struggling with a slightly ill-fitting wig) and from Angela Hunt as Jen Weatherstaff.
Some of the cast members were very young and it must have been their first time on a stage; they all did a sterling job with great facial expressions and all were on top of their lines and moves, which was great to see. The rest of the cast, 17 in total, had to double and triple up into various parts and in the main the scenes flowed well, with a good sense of pace. Many of the scenes were short vignettes with maybe only a page at most of dialogue and this did lead to a lot of slow scene changes, which did spoil the flow of the performance. The use of similar music throughout also made this more laborious than it should.
Some of the mystical and exciting visual elements for me were missing. The play is about entering this long forgotten magical ‘secret garden’, so the use of clearly visible plastic flowers was a real shame. I wish there could have been some more time spent on this area of the production as I think it would have lifted it even more.
There was some interesting ‘meshing’ together of the old and the new, with some of the cast, for instance, wearing trainers and modern dress and then some of the cast wearing traditional Edwardian dress. I am not sure this 100% worked for me, neither did some of the pantomime feel to the end of Act 1 and the start of Act 2, which was a shame as Steven Reynolds turned in a very humorous and strong performance as the Robin.
Lighting and sound were strong throughout, well done to Mark Bodger. There were some lovely touches of music from the Norwegian group Secret Garden as the play ended.
The future of Poulner Players, as they move towards their Golden Anniversary, is looking bright and I look forward to seeing another production in the near future!