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The Secret Garden: The Musical - The Little Theatre Review

Reviewed by Mark Johnson
Tickets were gifted in return for an honest review

Full of enchantment and mystery, The Little Theatre stage the musical adaption of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel, The Secret Garden, as their Easter show. 

Olivia King (Mary Lennox). Photo by Dave Morris

Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s musical weaves an emotional tale of loss, loneliness and the power of connection. The musical score is a rich tapestry of numbers with the stand out being the beautiful ‘Lily’s Eyes’ in the first act. The numbers fit well into the world of the show. 

The story centres on Mary Lennox, who is orphaned in India after a break out of cholera. She is forced to move to England to live with her only living relative, her aunt’s husband. 

This begins as something of a nightmare as the stubborn youngster arrives at the mysterious mansion with only the gardens to keep her entertained. The growth and development of the character is superbly captured by Olivia King. King gets every single emotion down throughout and is the lynch pin that the whole production relies on. King’s vocals and stage presence are top notch. 

As the darkness and mystery of the of the house begins to lift, the mood does as well. Initially Mary befriends housemaid Martha played by Kerry Smith. Smith brings delighting humour and a cracking Yorkshire accent to the role that brightens the stage with every appearance. There’s also the gardener Ben (Martin Bell) and Dickson (Simon Butler) that help brighten Mary’s outlook. 

Kieran Whelan-Newby is tremendous as Archibald Craven, a man completly lost in his grief that he shuts the world away wanting to leave the home behind whilst his brother Dr Neville Craven (Russell Webster) is controlling and manipulating and insists on sending Mary to boarding school. Whelan-Newby weaves the role superbly with fantastic vocals and acting. Webster also impresses with great vocals.

Russell Webster (Dr Neville Craven) and Keiran Whelan-Newby (Archibald Craven). Photo by Dave Morris 

Rose Bale haunts the piece as Lily, her ghostly presence is a reminder of the love and the loss that Archibald has suffered. Bale is a kindly presence in the background or foreground with quality operatic vocals. 

One night during a storm Mary hears crying in the house, unsure if it’s further part of her nightmare or coming from the house, she goes to investigate and finds wheelchair bound Colin Craven (a role shared by Harry Woodward, who we saw, and Edward Lander) who is being controlled by the Dr in order to protect him. He is kept locked away and not allowed to leave, with Archibald not coming to see him. 

As the relationship between Mary and Colin blooms as does Lily’s old garden which has become over grown and left unkept. The story weaves towards a moving conclusion that tugs at the heart strings. The impressive performances allow for a connection that you may not get otherwise. 

Whelan-Newby also directs the production and does so well, the use of the intimate stage space as well as Gem Greaves’ scenic design. Projection helps bring to flowers to life in the main. The use of the ensemble to bring alive the ghosts of the past is a clever touch. 

Overall it’s a very impressive production with some excellent performances that elevate this production further. It’s moving and emotive and Leicester audiences should flock to this garden of wonder this Easter.

The Secret Garden: The Musical plays at The Little Theatre on 26th and 27th March and from 3rd until 6th April 2024. Tickets are available from

The company of The Secret Garden. Photo by Dave Morris.

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