If dreamthinkspeak's Before I Sleep in a disused department store is the most spectacular use of space at this year's Brighton Festival, then Open Door Enter's Fringe production of The Secret Garden in the basement of a Regency townhouse in elegant Hove is surely the most ingenious. Here, in just three rooms off a dank, dark corridor, a cast of four economically and elegantly conjure up the world of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic children's novel.
Ushered from the daylight of Brunswick Square, we are plunged below stairs, into the gloomy reaches of Misselthwaite Manor, a mouldering estate presided over by the crabbed Mr Craven, still mourning the death of his wife a decade before and now reluctant guardian to his orphaned niece, Mary Lennox. As Mary investigates her strange new home, we too become curious explorers, following her flickering candle and echoing footsteps as far-off sounds – slamming doors, rattling trolleys and muffled cries – guide the way.
The scenes are necessarily episodic but the attention to detail here – the scent of ivy and yew as Mary scrabbles at the door to the secret garden, Adi Gilo's delightful Victorian costumes – is faultless. And in Rosie Taylor Ritson's poised Mary and Oli Howes' petulant Colin, the production has two of the most accomplished child actors I've seen on stage.
Making good use of lighting, windows and black gauze to open up new spaces, the production is nevertheless a little constrained by its location; some different levels might have added interest for the promenading audience. Still, the final surprise, revealed in a rush of golden sunlight, is lovely enough to bring gasps, if not tears. A charming hour.
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