The Secret Garden at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo by Alex Brenner

The Secret Garden Reviews Round-up at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London

A reviews round-up for The Secret Garden at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London.

This spectacular new show is playing at the Open Air Theatre until 20 July 2024.

The Secret Garden stars Theo Angel as Colin, Richard Clews as Ben Weatherstaff, George Fletcher as Dr. Craven, Amanda Hadingue as Mrs. Medlock, Molly Hewitt-Richards as Martha, Jack Humphrey as Archibald Craven, Avita Jay as Champa, Hannah Khalique-Brown as Mary Lennox, Patrick Osborne as Captain Lennox, Sharan Phull as Lata/The Robin, Archana Ramaswamy as Padma, and Brydie Service as Dickon.

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic tale has been adapted by Holly Robinson, and adapted and directed by Anna Himali Howard for this new production.

This production reimagines the story as a drama centered on dual heritage and cultural displacement. Set against the backdrop of the Indian Raj during a period of rising political unrest and partition, it follows Mary Lennox, a headstrong 10-year-old with an Indian mother and an English father, both of whom perish in a cholera epidemic.

Mary is then uprooted to the chilly, unfamiliar environment of Yorkshire, where she arrives at Misselthwaite Manor. There, she discovers a secret garden that brings beauty and magic into her grieving world.

The full creative team includes Dr. Priyanka Basu as Consultant Historian and Translator, Laura Cubitt as Puppetry Consultant, Will Dickie as Movement Director, Tingying Dong as Sound Designer, Gillian Greer as Dramaturg, James Hassett as Season Associate Sound Designer, Anna Himali Howard as Director, Polly Jerrold as Casting Director, Mishra Music (Ford Collier and Kate Griffin) as Composer, Jai Morjaria as Lighting Designer, Ita O’Brien as Intimacy Director, Hana Pascal Keegan as Associate Director, Khadija Raza as Costume Designer, Holly Robinson as Writer, and Leslie Travers as Set Designer.

The Secret Garden is playing at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 20 July 2024.

Read reviews of The Secret Garden from the Guardian, Times, Observer and more.

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The Secret Garden reviews

The Stage

"Enchanted adaptation"

"Gorgeously modern adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic"

"Much like the rush of discovering a long-hidden secret, Holly Robinson and Anna Himali Howard’s adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic feels like something clicking, satisfyingly into place."

"This stage version of The Secret Garden has the bones of the original: it begins with Mary Lennox in India and ends with a once-dying garden in bloom. But the historical context has been pushed forward to make Mary a child of mixed-race, Indian heritage. It is a decision that underpins the entirety of Himali Howard’s exquisite, flowing production."

"... the victory of this adaptation is as much down to the ensemble work as the writing. The narration is shared between the cast members, who take it in turns to lead us through Mary’s story."

Anya Ryan, The Stage
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i News

"Book your tickets right away"

"This new adaptation is a sheer delight - and the Regent's Park setting is perfect for it"

"Much as I have admired Mean Girls the Musical and James Corden star-vehicle The Constituent in recent days, I have seen no show that, in terms of sheer loveliness and final achievement, beats this delightful new adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett children’s classic, first published in 1911."

"Holly Robinson and Anna Himali Howard, who also directs, have hit the jackpot here, maintaining all Hodgson Burnett’s key themes of a lonely and disagreeable orphan coming to life and finding friendship in nature, but cleverly amplifying the Indian side of Mary Lennox’s story."

"This glorious amphitheatre in Regent’s Park is, of course, an ideal setting for such subject matter, surrounded as it is by the glories of nature in their full summer pomp. Mary’s growing garden is represented by colourful streamers suspended from tall hooks and, as night softly falls, we feel entirely encompassed by the joy of the outdoors."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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The Observer

"An al fresco Secret Garden remakes the story in surprising ways"

"It is a lovely thing that adapters Holly Robinson and Anna Himali Howard have done with The Secret Garden. The plot of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel, with its surprising spring, is fully delivered"

"In Anna Himali Howard’s fleet production the air is thick with secrets – doors are closed, sentences cut short – but there is lightness and flight as new life is whisked out of unexpected places"

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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The Guardian

"Inspired reimagining of children’s classic"

"This magical production sets the drama against the backdrop of Indian partition, allowing a deft exploration of dual heritage and cultural displacement"

"Directed by Himali Howard, it is an inspired transposition of a story that deals with dark themes around family and belonging, with both children and adults trying to fend off loneliness and find their place in the world."

"It is all charmingly executed with shades of Emma Rice’s overt theatricality, although it feels self-consciously poised for a while, the slow pacing and woodenness of the first act giving way to more magic in the second, and Jai Morjaria’s delightful lighting design adding to the effects."

"There are strained moments of joy too but the ingenuity of its ideas win you over, even if you are not quite cast under its spell."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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"Beautifully crafted, thoughtfully updated new version of the immortal children’s novel"

"Like anything that was written by a white person a hundred years ago, Hodgson Burnett's novel contains assumptions which may offend contemporary audiences. This free adaptation by directors Holly Robinson and Anna Himali Howard decolonises its source material with a deft hand."

"Hodgson Burnett’s novel already quotes from and is inspired by Indian fables and legends. Robinson and Himali Howard lean into this, making it less uptight and white, more hybrid and colourful."

"This is a non-hierarchical production and each character is distinctly realized by excellent actors who pass to each other happily and skilfully, never dropping a beat. Hannah Khalique-Brown is outstanding as Mary Lennox – imperious and fragile and very funny. Brydie Service is a joy as Dickon"

"This tangle of box ticking could definitely be cut back a bit. But doesn’t not dent the creative ebullience of a charming and lovely production which will send you out into Regent’s park with a tear in your eye and a smile on your face."

Caroline McGinn, TimeOut
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The Telegraph

"An old-fashioned tale is brought beautifully into the modern age"

"Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre proves an ideal setting for a take on the 1911 novel that preserves its magic while making it feel up to date"

"There are few theatrical experiences lovelier than the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre on a summer’s day. And with thick shrubbery making up the stage wings, and yellow sun glinting through tree tops above the set, it is a gloriously immersive setting for a production of The Secret Garden."

"Disability in the plot is no longer a signifier of Edwardian social failure, but instead something to be acknowledged, supported, and ultimately celebrated, as per today’s social mores. The garden becomes not only a site of regeneration, but a site of prelapsarian bliss where contemporary concerns around race, class, disability, and gender are seen to dissipate."

"Visually, this is a stunning production, with richly coloured saris and authentic colonial outfits designed by Khadija Raza, and warm, dynamic lighting from Jai Morjaria all helping to capture something of the allure of India and blending intriguingly with Gothic tropes from the novel. The gradual blossoming of the garden, achieved through paper chains and ornaments, is also enchanting."

Nick Ferris, The Telegraph
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The Times

"The classic tale gets an earthy update"

"In an enchanting new production at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London, the spoilt Mary Lennox finds herself caught between Yorkshire and India"

"Hannah Khalique-Brown — a fast rising star who has appeared in Barbie and the TV cyber-drama The Undeclared War — quickly makes her mark as an impressively petulant Mary, who finds herself alone in India when cholera kills her socialite parents. In a theatrical storytelling style familiar to fans of Jack Thorne’s enduringly popular A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic, the cast around her acts like a chorus, wryly commenting on her spiky progress into a strange new world."

"Laura Cubitt’s puppetry consultancy contributes much to the production’s wit — the fake-fur stole resurrected as a squirrel is particularly inspired."

"It’s a treat, and I’ll wager this garden won’t be staying secret for long."

Rachel Halliburton, The Times
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Daily Mail

"A blooming good garden makeoever"

"Frances Hodgson Burnett's beloved children's story is subject to an audacious but charming cross-pollination project at Regent's Park. And where the glorious backdrop of the park itself sets the bar very high, director Anna Himali Howard's multicultural makeover doesn't disappoint."

"The acting is reassuringly robust, too, with young adult actor Hannah Khalique-Brown making a ferocious ten-year-old Mary who really is quite contrary."

"The Disneyfied learning-to-love-yourself ending may require a shot of Pepto-Bismol for some (me). But before that, smoky Indian flute, twang of sitar and rumble of tabla drums, alongside cleverly improvised incarnations of crows, robins and squirrels, bring fresh enchantment to a classic tale."

Patrick Marmion, Daily Mail
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The Financial Times

"Adaptation of classic novel blooms outdoors"

"This is the perfect setting for a modern take on family, loss and nature’s healing power"

"What an inspired piece of programming. This new adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel, about regeneration, hope and the healing power of nature, unfolds here amid the nodding roses and swaying trees of Regent’s Park in summer. When the cast talk of the setting sun slanting through the branches, it needs no artifice to reproduce — the audience can see the effect around them."

"But it’s more than just the setting that makes this a joyous staging of a much-loved book. Holly Robinson and Anna Himali Howard, adapting, keep the core of the narrative — snobbish, unhappy little orphan Mary (Hannah Khalique-Brown) is sent from India to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven, in Yorkshire and discovers a dark house steeped in grief and secrets. But they tweak it slightly to expand its moral of acceptance and to meet modern sensibilities."

"There are times when the show pushes its messages a little too hard, with the inclusion of a politically engaged Indian aunt feeling a little stitched on. But overall it’s a generous, uplifting piece of theatre that, like a good gardener, prunes and shapes the original without losing its charm."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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The Secret Garden

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📷 Main photo: The Secret Garden at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo by Alex Brenner

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