In 2002 this critically acclaimed in- house production thrilled both audiences and critics, alike. It is now back by popular demand to entertain theatregoers in search of something dark and original this Christmas.
The problem is, second time around, any sense of mystery is all but gone. It is not a complete failure though, as there is still some magic left in this old tale, given a twisted makeover by acclaimed adaptor, David Wood.
This middle class childrens' classic does seem staid - in terms of narrative - as it does resemble a Sunday tea time serial drama. But here, Tom's search of some excitement in his aunt's garden, following quarantine, to avoid catching his brother's measles -is still expertly handled.
As soon as the back door opens, a new world is explored as he steps back in time, meeting tom boy, Hatty in the midnight garden. This is where the play really comes alive, but If you have visions of an English Country Garden full of beautiful birds and plants, Jamie Vartan's clever but dull washed-out set does not ignite these visions.
Sure the piece is Tim Burton-esque and should be applauded for its visionary delivery but, a bit of colour here and there would lift the piece and provide a sense of optimism for the audience.
Arthur Wilson plays Tom with a spirited air and good humour. He is matched by Claire Redcliffe's Hatty who has the energy required to bring her to life. It is Christopher Chilton and Carolyn Tomkinson though who bring much needed light and shade to the monochrome feel.
Everything that impressed five years ago seems slightly laboured now, including Liam Steele’s overdone movement which has too many annoying segments with characters brandishing walking sticks like angry Northern Rock customers!
All is not lost though Roger Haines and Steele’s dynamic direction does provide a few scares and surprises. Paul Gregory’s chilling sound effects also add something sinister to the mix. But, you do leave the theatre feeling that young kids will find the piece too bleak, whereas adults might question how much of the original piece is left on stage.
So, a credible alternative to the traditional panto but this well- intentioned piece fails to wield its might as well as it did in 2002. For first timers, there is still much to excite but returners may feel short changed.
- Glenn Meads