SPRING is on its way, gardens are perking up, good timing for Pick Me Up Theatre to stage Tom’s Midnight Garden from tomorrow at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.
Who better to direct David Wood’s adaptation of Philippa Pearce’s beloved book than the York company’s artistic director Robert Readman, a garden and gardening enthusiast, as a visit to his Bubwith abode would affirm.
In Pearce’s 1950s’ story, Tom is sent away sent to stay with his Aunt Gwen and Uncle Alan in their upstairs flat in a big Victorian house after his brother Peter catches the measles and is now quarantined.
Lonely and bored, Tom has little to do until one night he hears the hallway grandfather clock strike 13. Creeping downstairs to investigate, he throws open the back door to…no longer a small yard but a large and beautiful garden instead.
Something strange is happening: every time the clock strikes 13, Tom is transported back in time to the secret garden. There he befriends an unhappy Victorian orphan, Hatty, and a series of adventures ensues, but what is behind the magical midnight garden?
“It’s such a magical story, all to do with time,” says Robert. “I love how it jumps between a young boy’s dull life in the 1950s, and his adventures with Hatty in the 1880s.”
“The lighting and sound will be vital to the transformation between the two times; the characters dress according to the era they’re from, and there’ll also be a lot of mime in the show, so it’ll be a mixture of the real and the unreal, with the cast doing roles from the two eras.”
To convey the two contrasting worlds with his black-box design, director-designer Readman has constructed two platforms, one at either end, one for Peter’s bedroom, one for Tom’s, with a doorway to each one and the hallway clock at Tom’s end.
“It’s nothing like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, which was written in Victorian times, whereas Tom’s Midnight Garden is a tale of children stuck in the drabness of the 1950s creating an exciting world by travelling back to Victorian days, and that’s what we’re conveying in both the design and the performances.”
Reading the book as a child and now re-reading it in preparation for the Pick Me Up production, Robert says: “What struck me is that it’s all to do with children’s imaginations. It’s a piece about how children can conjure up adventures with make-believe.
“It’s a beautiful book that can be read by adults just as much as by children; it treats children as being intelligent in their own right, and I love how it takes you on a journey where there’s both sweetness and sadness, so everything is doubled.”
Company regular Jack Hambleton and Pick Me Up newcomer Jimmy Dalgleish will share the role of Tom; Olivia Caley will play Hatty, and Ed Atkin, Peter.
“At the beginning, it’s quite hard to like Tom because he complains quite a lot and seems ungrateful, but then you can see that he was just feeling lonely and was missing his brother,” says Jack.
“His friendship with Hatty shows how caring and thoughtful he is, and he also shows his curiosity and intelligence when approaching the puzzle of how his time travel is possible.”
Jimmy, similar in stature to Jack but differing in his interpretation of the role according to Readman, says: “Stuck inside at his aunt and uncle’s house, Tom is lonely and ‘longs for someone to play with’.
“Tom is very playful and somewhat cheeky! He’s intelligent, adventurous and loyal to his new friend Hatty. He’s very inquisitive and a logical thinker as he tries to work out that he’s somehow able to go back in time!”
Summing up Victorian Hatty’s character, Olivia says: “She’s a curious and playful young girl with a great imagination, despite her sad upbringing. All Hatty wants to do is have adventures and not grow up!”
Ed plays not only Peter, but Hubert and “Voice” too. “But I spend most of my time as Peter, who’s got measles, so he has to spend all his time in bed. The letters written by Tom are his only entertainment, which means he’s fascinated by the stories that are sent to him.”
Given that time travel is so central to Tom’s Midnight Garden, if they each could go back in time to one era to live in, what would it be and why? “Probably Ancient Egypt as I’m fascinated by how they lived and how much they achieved,” says Jack. “I would love to know how they really built the pyramids and how much influence the gods had on their lives.”
“The Tudor era because I would love to live among the people of the court of Henry VIII and experience the grandeur the scandal and politics of his life,” reckons Jimmy.
“I actually experienced what it was like to be a young girl in the Regency era in a short film called Mr Malcolm’s List,” reveals Olivia. “So, I’d probably want to travel back to that era. The dresses were beautiful, and I loved getting to wear them! Not so much the corsets!”
Ed picks the 1960s. “This was such an exciting time in the development of the music industry,” he reasons. “I just think it would have been so fascinating to learn about music at a time when it was constantly changing and being upgraded.”
While on the subject of music, Ed has written a beautiful score for violin, cello and piano for musical director Tim Selman’s forces. “It definitely draws on the theme of ‘time no longer’,” he says.
“I took inspiration from the likes of Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten, who wrote music that was modern at the time but also harked back to the Victorian Romantic styles.
“Additionally, I tried to incorporate the idea of childhood and playfulness into what I wrote, so lots of the music is fun and slightly quirky. However, it’s all shrouded in a sense of mystery.”
Not only director Readman has a love of gardens, so do his cast principals. “Some gardens are very magical,” says Jack. “I particularly like gardens with hidden corners and an air of mystery, such as Castle Howard and Beningbrough Hall.”
Jimmy concurs: “A garden is a place where anything can happen,” he says. “A garden inspires imagination and can subsequently transport you to a whole new world of your own creation away from the stresses and strains of ordinary life, and that in itself is magical!”
Olivia enthuses: “I absolutely think gardens are magical! There’s so much scope for the imagination. When I was little, I was always playing in my garden, so I can really relate to Hatty on that.”
Gardens can be magical, especially for a child, suggests Ed. “There’s a moment in the play where Tom and Hatty go through a ‘secret passage’. This feeling of exploring a new world is one I remember well from playing in such a garden when I was younger,” he says.
Let the clock strike 13. A garden awaits.
Pick Me Up Theatre in Tom’s Midnight Garden, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, tomorrow (March 13) until March 21. Box office: 01904 623568; at pickmeuptheatre.com or in person from York Gin, 12, Pavement, and the York Theatre Royal box office.
Copyright of The Press, York