This past Tuesday, along with assorted family, I had the privilege of seeing The Secret Garden at the Minack Theatre.
For those who don’t know it, the Minack (from the Cornish meynek meaning ‘rocky place’) must be one of the most dramatic performance venues in the United Kingdom, perhaps the world. Built on a rocky outcrop at Porthcurno, the theatre sits on top of granite cliffs with a sweeping view of the Atlantic, its stage open to the elements. Constructed rock by rock by Rowena Cade and her gardener to accommodate local village players, the theatre’s first performance was The Tempest in 1932.
I realised the last time I had been was 1995, to see The Questors perform Denise Deegan’s Daisy Pulls It Off. On that occasion, we sat there with black bin bags on our head eating a huge Spanish omelette made by our friend Victor, who spoke very little English. Quite what he made of these barely audible schoolgirls pranking each other in the rain, we never found out, but it was surely a very English summer experience.
By contrast, this visit was in stunning sunshine, the kind of April day that teases with the possibility of long hot summer days to come. The site has been considerably developed over the last couple of decades, with a little complex of shops and a cafe. If they were there twenty-four years ago, I certainly don’t recall them.
Jessica Swale’s adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic is a superbly paced and good-humoured romp, the energy of the cast, young and old, matched by wonderful, inventive puppetry. Although manipulated by humans, the animals, particularly the fox, are beguiling and the movements uncannily lifelike.
This was the first performance. The younger cast members divide into two teams, Foxglove and Bluebell, for different shows and it was Foxglove for the premiere. Perhaps the standout performance for me was Alina Hulse, whose portrayal of Martha, one of the nurses, was simply superb. She had all the assured presence of an actor twice her age – learning after the show that she was just twelve (my sister, who is an artist and also involved in Cornish theatre knew a number of the cast and the puppet makers). Credit, too, to Juliet Colclough (Mary Lennox), Roisin Bermingham (Dickon) and Harry Ladd-Carr (Colin Craven), for drawing us into the magic of The Secret Garden.
Seeing shows like this takes me back to the 1980s and Basildon’s Towngate Theatre and the shows we did with the English National Opera and the Basildon Youth Theatre.
Perhaps I should have stuck with acting.