Nov 09, 2023
Time travel on the Cornish cliffs in sweet adaptation of classic children's book
A visit to the Minack Theatre requires that you be prepared for anything, as you never really know what weather you're going to get - and so it proved on Thursday when we experienced both rain and
A visit to the Minack Theatre requires that you be prepared for anything, as you never really know what weather you're going to get - and so it proved on Thursday when we experienced both rain and then baking heat within the space of half an hour; a classic Minack experience.
The same could be said for the show we were there to see. Tom's Midnight Garden delivered both drama and plenty of sweet, tender moments.
As the sun beat down on the Cornish cliff face, the relatively young cast delivered a memorable performance of Philippa Pearce's classic children's novel from 1958, adapted by David Wood.
Now 65 years on, my own daughter was discovering the fantasy tale - my favourite description of which is "a time travel book masquerading as a ghost story" - for the first time.
The stage transformed into an ice rink - despite baking heat on our visit (Image: Lynn Batten)
At the age of eight she particularly connected with the character of Hatty (Lucy Beasley), the young girl that protagonist Tom (Jesse Battle) becomes friends with in a garden that can only be discovered at night once the mysterious grandfather clock strikes 13, while staying with his aunt and uncle (Darcey Ball and Ben Kernow). However, he quickly realises that she comes from a different time period altogether.
We were all fans of the puppetry in the production, in particular the flock of geese, wonderfully portrayed by the men of the ensemble decked out in frilly tutus and 'geese head' gloves.
A flock of geese provide light relief (Image: Lynn Batten)
After some reasonably heavy themes of childhood loneliness and difficult family relationships, it provided a welcome moment of light relief midway through the first half, as the actors appeared through the centre of the audience in great kerfuffle, with the whole production seeming to lift from thereon in.
A special mention must also go to Darcey Ball who characterised the dog to great effect, interacting with some of the children in the audience and giving such believability to the puppet.
Another highlight of the production was the live music provided by Ben Sutcliffe and Zaid Al-Rikabi, as well as, on occasion, the cast members themselves, which really added to the drama and emotion of the piece.
Wood's adaptation is written for small ensemble casts, with many of the actors required to transform themselves into different characters. Particularly effective at this was Eleanor Toms who played both the strict Victorian aunt to Hatty, and the quiet, slightly strange Mrs Bartholomew of the present day.
Eleanor Toms (centre) transformed herself between strict Aunt Grace and the mysterious Mrs Bartholomew (Image: Lynn Batten)
Without giving away the ending to those who don't know the story, the twist in the final scenes gave a sweet conclusion to the show, directed here by Kirstie Davis and performed by four members of the Minack Academy working with four professional actors (something I only discovered after seeing the show, so props to them all as I couldn't distinguish between them).
While taken from a children's novel, this is a production that transcends age and has plenty to interest both adults and youngsters, although children from mid-primary school age upwards will get more from it than those that are really young.
Tom's Midnight Garden runs at the Minack in Cornwall until Friday, September 1 with tickets from £10; under 16s half price.