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The Secret Garden In Concert (London Palladium)

(seen at the performance on 28th August 2022)

Young orphan Mary Lennox is transported from colonial India to Uncle Archibald “Archie” Craven’s big old Yorkshire house ‘with something strange inside it.’ Crying in the night, a locked garden and surly brother add to the mystery.

The last of London’s August of shows in concert for the monkey, and a high to end the season on. Amusingly, many of the cast and creative team worked on at least one of the other one-off events by the various producers. Aside from admiring their versatility and prodigious memories for lyrics, moves and timing, it is impressed by the breadth of characters each actor is able to portray.

Hadley Fraser has gone from explosive Russian chess player to grieving brother in a month. No wonder he just wants to hide from the world. Fortunately, he shines as he remembers “Lily’s Eyes” and moves all in his duet with her.

As Lily, Emma Williams is at her finest. A porcelain voice dusting the back row of the upper circle with diamonds. No wonder young Darcy Jacobs was making heart shapes with her hands in the wings while watching “How Could I Ever Know” bring the house down at the end of the second act.

In years to come, more than likely some young actor will be doing the same for Miss Jacobs. Mary Lennox is a difficult role with shock having to give way to surprise and ultimately enough self-awareness for two children. Always a sweet vocal, a little humour and some 21st century exasperation enchanted the audience.

Around her, Linda John-Pierre as Mrs Medlock is nicely forbidding as head of household staff, while Maiya Quansah-Breed as maid Martha and young brother Alex Thomas-Smith as Dickon do their best to draw Mary into their calming rural way of life. Quansah-Breed’s perfect “Martha’s Ditty” and “If I had a Fine White Horse” match Thomas-Smith’s “Wick” as both deliver superb renditions of the monkey’s favourite songs from this charming score.

Paternal gardener Ben Weatherstaff sees Howard Scott Walker on kindly gruff form as the fresh air and desire for a bit of earth takes hold in the girl’s imagination, and in turn allow her to liberate locked away Colin. Isaac Lancel-Watkinson’s emerging belief in his own recovery commands an emotional high-point in the show - walking then running across the stage brought a delighted audience reaction truly invested in his character.

Small wonder that Mark Feehily as Neville Craven faced good-natured booing at his curtain call. A scheming presence fortunately unable to keep the boy locked away.

As ghost Alice, Grace Mouat fills yet another one-off concert role with compelling stage presence, singing voice and a rather beautiful dress to match. Equally haunting, Michael Riseley’s Captain Albert Lennox produces a comforting aura watching over his daughter from beyond the grave.

Nick Winston takes intelligent choices as director, allowing on-stage narrator Lucy Drever to do a fine job holding the evening together, filling in missing scenes unstageable in concert format. That the story made sense and moved at measured speed without becoming as sedate as the material suggests it could, highlights the quality of the presentation.

The Trinity Laben Musical Theatre Ensemble added weight to the choral moments, Adam Hoskins’s 15 piece orchestra given perfectly balanced sound by Jonny Dickie’s design and visual appeal with the rainbow of side lighting from Joseph Ed Thomas.

When a show is “wick” it has a life about it. Lucy Simon’s music is tuneful if a little ballad-heavy, while Marsha Norman’s Tony for the lyric is richly deserved. Charm in abundance, and this production set the Palladium stage awash with its joyous atmosphere.

For some reason this musical based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved novel (and not, to the disappointment of some, Nancy Friday’s research) has never really captured the commercial West End. Yet here is the evidence that a full revival, if only on a smaller scale, is well worth considering.

4 stars.

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