Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

tom and hetty

Rachael Louise Pickard as Hetty and Garrett Awre as Tom

Tom’s Midnight Garden

Hall Green Little Theatre


Time is relative, Einstein told us so in his special theory of relativity, which all helps when you stage a play where time is, should we say, a flexible commodity, juggling now and then, whenever then was, stepping back in time every night at 13-o'clock.

The situation is confused even more when Tom stumbles through the time door in his Aunt’s house into the past and can see everyone living in the house as it was then, but only two of them, the people of the past, can see him.

Philippa Pearce’s 1958 children’s novel has become a much loved classic which has been adapted for radio, television three times, made into a feature film, and finally adapted by David Wood for the stage and this production does an excellent job of making time travel a comfortable journey for an audience.

It is not the easiest to stage requiring a modern bedroom, modern flat, modern yard with dustbins and before all that came along, a large garden hidden in the past and director Christine Bland and set designer Laura McCaughey have created a panoramic stage divided up by lighting (sound and lighting, Daniel Robert Beaton and Rob Scott) which reduces scene changes to the flick of a switch.

The play stands or falls on the portrayal of the two main characters, twelve-year-old Tom from now and Hatty, a young girl from then, and Garrett Awre and Rachael Louise Pickard make the roles their own – you could believe they really were young children – not adults playing children, but real children.

Garrett, at 19, is hoping to study drama at university in September and performances like this can do his chances no harm at all while Rachael has shown time and again what a fine actress she has grown into.

aunt and uncle

Jo Walker as Aunt Gwen and Paul Hanna as Uncle Alan

Both Tom and Hatty are outsiders, both at the house by circumstance rather than living in a family home. Tom’s brother Peter has measles so he has been sent to stay with Aunt Gwen (Jo Walker) and Uncle Alan (Paul Hanna) as a form of quarantine, his aunt and uncle fussing around him in kindly fashion.

They live in a flat in a large house and Tom’s problem is he is not allowed to go outside in case he is infectious, and even if he could go out there are no children to play with and no garden to play in.

Hatty, meanwhile, has been taken in by a strict and somewhat resentful Aunt Grace (Debbie Richardson) after her parents died, the aunt making it quite plain she has taken her in out of an unwanted sense of duty and does not like the situation one little bit. It means Hatty is in constant trouble for every little or even imagined transgression.

Looking out for her is the gruff gardener Abel, played with a humourless air and religious fervour by Stephen Awre, Garrett’s father, incidentally.

Bored out of his mind Tom, cooped up in the flat all day, writes to his bother Peter, played by Emily Beaton, telling of the tedium, and good cakes Aunt Gwen makes, but all that changes when the house’s beautiful clock reaches midnight and strikes 13. From that moment on the letters are exciting tales of mystery and adventure.

The clock strikes wakes Tom and he goes to investigate and opening the door he finds himself in a wonderful, large, sunlit garden . . . midnight? . . . garden? . . . the clue was in the title.

The next morning he opens the back door and there is no garden, just the yard and dustbins and a new housing estate where the garden once was.

So, each night, at midnight, Tom vanishes to spend hours in the secret garden, playing with Hetty, who is the only person who can see him . . . although we are to discover Abel also has the ability, it just wasn’t necessary to mention it until he needed to.

By some quirk of the structure of time there is no narrative to the visits. Tom’s visits don’t follow on, what happens today doesn’t continue tomorrow. Nor does time follow. Tom is 12 now and then and forever more in book and play, while Hatty grows from child to woman, and we leave her about to be married to Barty, played by Harris Khan, last seen in the youth theatre’s The Velvetine Rabbit.

It seems that Tom’s time and Hatty’s are traveling in different dimensions.

Hatty’s past sees her cousins and friends with the likes of Susan, Jo Walker again, Jane played by Joanne Newton and Edwina played by Niamh-Ariannne Warrillow.

Back in the present we have Mrs Bartholomew, the elderly, widowed, owner of the house, Gwen and Alan’s landlady, who winds the clock that strikes 13.

How she fits in would be telling. If you know the story then I don’t need to tell you, if you don’t know it . . . you will just have to find out.

As a play it is episodic, which TV and cinema, with their cuts and instant scene changes can deal with, on stage it is more difficult. I have seen professional productions which haven’t coped well with the challenge, stopping and starting like a stuttering lawn mower, but this production all on one set divided up by light has kept up a reasonable pace, moving from scene to scene with just a few steps to keep a steady flow.

It’s a classic book brought to faithful life in a fine production keeping time to 18-05-24

Roger Clarke



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