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Tom's Midnight Garden (Keswick)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Tom’s Midnight Garden, adapted by David Wood from the much-loved story by Philippa Pearce, is the story of how Tom, sent away from his family in the 1950s to avoid the measles, is rescued from boredom and isolation by the striking of a magical clock in the night.

When the clock strikes, Tom travels back in time to the late-Victorian era, where nobody can see him and he can play outside all he likes. One day he meets a girl called Hatty, who can see him, and from then on Tom goes back to different points in Hatty’s life each night, forwards and backwards through her childhood and early adulthood, not noticing that she is a different age each time he sees her. 

For any classic, channelling the ‘feel’ of the original is vital, and director Ian Forrest, designer Martin Johns, and composer/arranger Richard Atkinson triumph here. The music, played by cast members Liam Gerrard, Nick Dutton and Daniel Wexler, is nicely atmospheric, and the whole cast switch roles with gusto (at several points becoming parts of the clock).

Maria Gough and Peter Rylands provide a nicely-observed double act as the slightly comic couple looking after Tom in the 1950s and simple Victorian sweethearts working in the big house in whose garden Tom and Hetty play. Dominic Brewer as Tom and Hayley Doherty as Hatty make an engaging pair, vividly conveying the highs and lows of being a child, even whilst growing up before our eyes. The play’s final encounter between Tom and Hatty – now played with a knowing twinkle by Pamela Buchner – is direct and heart-warming.

Good though the performances are, the real star quality of the production lies in its marvellous integration of music, design and action, switching fluidly between Tom’s different realities, even managing to show just what it feels like to be rushing down a long secret passage through a hedge.

A classic tale of the magic in and of childhood, for young, old and everyone in between, perfect for this time of year, brought beautifully to life by a talented team.

- Stephen Longstaffe