The Secret Garden

From the book written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden is a classic work of English children's literature.
The Secret Garden

The cast of The Secret Garden photograph courtesy of the Queenland Conservatoirum, Griffith University.

A heart-warming story of an orphaned girl who comes to live with her widowed uncle, Mary Lennox brings to life an overgrown garden and thereby changes the lives of all those with whom she comes into contact.

A Tony award-winning musical, The Secret Garden is an ambitious and complex work to stage, even with talented third year students, but it is also the first time QCGU has presented a musical supported by classical orchestral musicians from the Symphony Orchestra (QCSO). Both sets of students delivered exceedingly well and at a professional standard that bodes well for the industry, while the musical theatre students were well cast vocally and dramatically with no weak links within a large cast.

Lucy Simon’s music is ravishingly beautiful and expertly composed, her songs supported by first-rate lyrics from Marsha Norman, woven around a fast-moving dramatic story. Musical Director, Heidi Loveland, brought out the best from the students with a highly-polished musicality and attention to detail that was real and truthful. Peter Morris conducted the orchestra with authority, his sensitive phrasing and instrumental colour bringing light and shade to softer and dramatic passages, whilst supporting the singers and production.

Bronte Turpin was excellent in the main role as Mary Lennox, ably supported by Stephen Adams as her cousin, Colin, both third year students playing child roles with great aplomb. As the maid, Martha, Cait Gregor almost stole the evening – superb comic timing, terrific singing and a near perfect Yorkshire accent. Samuel Skuthorp brought a delightful mystical quality to his role as her brother Dickon and both his songs, 'Winter’s on the Way' and 'Wick' were highlights. Thomas Armstrong-Robley as Mary’s uncle, Archie Craven, gave an astonishingly mature and moving performance, delivering some of the best songs of the evening with his powerful light baritone. He and his brother, Neville, played by Kieran Rodriguez, gave a rendition of the stunning 'Lily’s Eyes', which was almost a showstopper. Additionally, the ghosts of Mary’s parents, Albert and Rose, were charmingly presented by Hayden Rodgers and Ashleigh Denning, while Lily’s haunting of Archie was suitably ethereal.

Josh McIntosh designed a simple but stunning set consisting of panels of various sizes and shapes, representing walls and set pieces, but also utilising them as picture frames behind which the various ghosts of the past stood or sang. It was eerily effective. Period Victorian costumes gave the work its historic context. Michael Livemore’s sound design was well executed, while Nigel Levings’ lighting was splendidly atmospheric and focused, giving a claustrophobic feel to the house and an unearthly quality in the ghost scenes. The final scene however was disappointing, in that we did not witness visually the garden’s blossoming. A burst of spring colours, either through lighting or scenic effects, would have given a joyous touch to an otherwise near-perfect ending.

That aside, much of the success of this production must go to director, Ian Good, whose work with the students was well-crafted and wonderfully realised. He delivered a no-nonsense, straightforward vision of the work, shaping his production with detailed stage pictures that utilised the set and the tableaux to great effect. Drawing some exceptionally strong performances from his young cast, he just told the story by linking songs and drama quite seamlessly, producing an exceptionally professional result.

The Musical Theatre course at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University (QCGU) is one of the few professional training courses of its kind in Australia and became part of the Conservatorium’s program in 2011. Now in its sixth year, it has already garnered a reputation for high-quality productions with students trained in text, music and physicality. Graduates have demonstrated success in finding work in professional musical and drama productions and national tours, as well as overseas.Under Paul Sabey’s direction of the Musical Theatre course, QCGU should be extremely proud of its achievements to date and The Secret Garden is one of its highlights.

Rating: 4.5 starts out of 5 

The Secret Garden 

Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Music by Lucy Simon
Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman

Director: Ian Good
Musical Director: Heidi Loveland 
Conductor: Dr. Peter Morris
Set and Costume Designer: Josh McIntosh
Lighting Designer: Nigel Levings 
Sound Designer: Michael Livermore

Conservatorium Theatre, Griffith University, Southbank until 26 August​

Suzannah Conway

Monday 22 August, 2016

About the author

Suzannah Conway is an experienced arts administrator, having been CEO of Opera Queensland, the Brisbane Riverfestival and the Centenary of Federation celebrations for Queensland. She has been writing reviews and music articles for over 10 years and regularly reviews classical music, opera and musical theatre in particular for The Australian and Limelight magazine as well as other journals.