REVIEW: Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce adapted by David Wood
Harper Jackson was Tom, the boy billeted with Aunt and Uncle while his brother recovers from measles. Harper’s central performance showed us the frustration and loneliness of enforced quarantine but also the boyish good humour and sense of fun that made friendship with a girl from another time believable. Emily Cooper as the young Hatty, was equally engaging, capturing the childhood mannerisms of a girl on the edge of her group of play fellows, seeking companionship, and finding it through her adventures with Tom. Katie Marks as Peter, Tom’s measled brother, kept us up to date with story developments through correspondence with Tom; her portrayal capturing the mood of a younger sibling desperately wanting to be part of her brother’s midnight adventures.
The story is innocent, gentle and beguiling, and directors Niall Whitehead and Barbara Ward found all these elements in their production. Reaching the midnight garden when the grandfather clock struck thirteen seemed entirely plausible. Their staging created a spacious central acting area for adventures to be played out while raised surrounds served as the lonely corridors of Tom’s quarantine home as well as platforms for midnight garden escapades. Particularly impressive was the stylised tree that linked the acting areas and was strong enough to be climbed by Tom and Hatty. Lighting was also used to create the atmosphere of the magical garden. Into this arena came other characters; Abel (Richard Keeble) the honest gardener looking out for Hatty, and Susan (Becca Barrie) house servant, and sweetheart for Abel. Munroe Scott, Charly Guyatt and Katie Marks were Hatty’s Victorian “friends”, and Yvonne Rees, her Aunt Grace, all of whom who were not without a cruel streak to make us feel all the more for Hatty’s situation. Back in the more modern world, Adrian Bowd and Helen Evans were Tom’s well-meaning if somewhat tiresome relatives who helped spark our sympathy for Tom’s predicament as a boy simply seeking fun and excitement, and someone to share it with. The production moved to a close with Jessie Whitehead (excellent ice skating!) as the adult Hatty finding companionship with Barty (Lewis Jones), and then a fine performance from Dianne Cheesewright, as Mrs Bartholmew, to tie up the loose ends.
Tom’s Midnight Garden is a heart-warming tale. Sentimental, yes, but unashamed at showing us the better side of human nature, and at Christmas, just right.