'What a charming show The Secret Garden is'

The Secret Garden at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Abbey Theatre

The Company of Ten's production of The Secret Garden from the Abbey Theatre can still be seen online. - Credit: Anne Frizell and Iain Robertson Abbey Theatre

What a year it has been for live theatre in St Albans and elsewhere.

Yet it has brought out new degrees of ingenuity in many amateur theatre companies and none more so than the St Albans-based Company of Ten (CoT).

Within days of Herts going into Tier 3 that effectively stopped any live audiences watching CoT’s Christmas show, The Secret Garden, the county found itself in the even more difficult Tier 4.

But thanks to the experience of live-screening previous shows in the 2020/21 season, CoT was able to put on The Secret Garden, albeit with no live audience at the Abbey Theatre other than members of the theatre company involved in the production.

And what a charming show it is, a throwback to an earlier and simpler time, and how amazing are the predominantly young cast in the face of rows of empty seats.

CoT often puts on a Christmas show as opposed to trying to compete with pantomime, so the lack of audience participation is not too big an issue.

And there was no doubt when I watched it on Saturday – the opening night and just hours after the Tier 4 announcement – that it was a very wise choice given the circumstances.

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Directed by Katherine Barry, who appeared in The Secret Garden when it was last performed by CoT 16 years ago, it is a reasonably easy play to stage thanks to the use of a screen showing the garden of the title through the seasons.

Katherine introduces some special little touches, including a novel way of showing old portraits and the transformation of the garden at the end.

The talented cast, led by Maddie Bye and Susanna Willink sharing the role of Mary Lennox in different performances, are a mixture of new young actors and more experienced performers such as Elena Markham as a grouchy Mrs Matlock and Andrew Baird as Mr Craven and the gardener Ben Weatherstaff.

And special mention has to go to the music to accompany the show written by Emma Barry, who has produced the soundtrack for other CoT productions.

Never intrusive it provides the perfect backdrop to the production and sums up the gentle charm of this much-needed Christmas show.

To find out more about watching the online production of the show – and to support CoT in these difficult times – go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk