Tom’s Midnight Garden at The Rose Theatre, Kingston - review

Tom's Midnight Garden

Tom's Midnight Garden - Credit: Archant

‘A nice, calm story that you can watch without having to worry about scary fights or special effects.’ Such was the reaction of my six-year-old son to David Wood’s delightful stage adaptation of Philippa Pearce’s classic 1958 story, Tom’s Midnight Garden, currently on tour by The Birmingham Stage Company, directed by Neal Foster.

My son was right. The production is charming, gentle and very easy on the eye, with beautiful scenery, evocative lighting and costumes reminiscent of a simpler time of childhood innocence. The relationship between the thoroughly likeable, Tom, played with credibility by David Tute and his feisty Victorian playmate, Hatty (Caitlin Thorburn) is a joy to watch develop and, although the fluctuations of time mean that Hatty grows up faster than Tom in her Victorian world, the firm friendship is very touching.

The production relies heavily on mime, with such props as crockery, garden tools and even the Bible physically absent from the stage, yet very much brought to life by the cast’s skilled hand movements. Live music, too plays its part in setting the scene, with the actors displaying as much proficiency on their various instruments as flexibility in taking on multiple parts.

Kate Adams and Tom Jude give sympathetic portrayals of Tom’s uncle and aunt, slipping easily into their Victorian roles as the housekeeper and gardener, complete with requisite regional accents, when required. Ed Thorpe, Ifan Gwilym-Jones and Joe Stuckey, play multiple parts too, working best together as the trio of cousins who conspire to make Hatty’s young life a misery.

The cousins are backed up by their imperious mother, Aunt Grace, whose contempt for her young charity case niece is both palpable and disturbing. Again, Helen Ryan switches seamlessly from playing the immovable Victorian grand dame to Tom’s family’s modern-day landlady, whose mysterious silence and attention to her beloved grandfather clock are explained in an incredibly touching finale to the piece.

Philippa Pearce’s original novel posed many questions about time and the production didn’t stray from this theme. The imposing Grandfather clock remained central to proceedings and the children’s chatter kept returning to the same topic: who was the ghost, Tom or Hatty?

Either way, the two protagonists maintained their strong friendship despite the immovable barriers of time and the ageing process. Such an achievement is precious indeed, and the perfect message for today’s children to take away from this enchanting, ‘calm’ story.