If you have ever read "The Secret Garden" with its gothic mansion, brooding reclusive grieving owner, plotting perhaps literally poisonous brother, self-pitying impossible child hidden in the attic, damaged tantrum-prone orphan, and sundry amiable rustics, making it into a musical may not have been the first thought to cross your mind.
Apart from the afore-mentioned rustics, the other characters, at least at the beginning, are at best unprepossessing, at worst, unpleasant.
But a musical it has become, and we must make the best of it.
Which is precisely what the Queensland Conservatorium has done. Stand-out parts (partially because they are warm and positive throughout) are those of Martha, Mary's servant (Cait Gregor), Dickon (Samuel Skulthorpe) her brother, who makes the garden grow, and Ben (Thomas Hooley) the old caretaker, who fills in some aspects of the plot. Cait and Samuel fill out these parts with humour and energy and excellent voices.
Mary Lennox has a harder road to travel. As surely the only heroine to gain her role as the result of a cholera epidemic, Bronte Turpin tackles the transition brilliantly from traumatised and tragic young girl to the giver of new life both to a garden and to her cousin. The music, often complex and sometimes derivative, does not make it an easy task, but she gives a creditable performance, and in particular exudes energy and joy as the garden and Colin both find new life.
Beginning as the sickly and doom-laden child, Stephen Adams also does well, and makes credible and touching the transformation scene where he shows his father that he has found a new lease on life.
Archie Craven was a hard part to play. Moping, remote, weak and ineffectual he then, basking in the warmth of his child's recovery, finds strength and happiness. Thomas Armstrong Robley is entirely credible, and at no time was one conscious that this was a young man playing this part.
Throughout we have a chorus, presented as ghosts of the characters' pasts. Musically the chorus may have been the strongest component of the show on stage – sensitive, precise, powerful and engaging.
The orchestra was flawless and impressive.
The "Con" are to be congratulated in having taken a not entirely first-rate musical and given it a first-rate performance which the audience clearly and appropriately appreciated.
Ian Good : Director
Peter Morris ; Conductor
Heidi Loveland : Musical Director