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Tom’s Midnight Garden

Nicola Mostyn on a transporting and memorable story of friendship and time

Published on December 17th 2007.

Tom’s Midnight Garden

When it comes to Christmas miracles, forget the virgin birth or the amount of panicked shoppers you can fit into one small branch of Lush: There is nothing quite so astounding as the effect a festive show can have on a group of chattering infants.

Then the lights went down, a clock began its ominous ticking and after a short burst of excited squealing, the kids descended into total silence.

Moments before the start of Tom’s Midnight Garden the assembled mass of junior school children were making a noise like a bunch of geese. Then the lights went down, a clock began its ominous ticking and after a short burst of excited squealing, the kids descended into total silence.

Even more astounding was they remained like that. Although, perhaps that’s not so surprising as this adaptation of Philippa Pearce’s well-loved children’s story, which returns to The Library after a successful run in 2002, is a really mesmerising piece of theatre.

The play tells the story of a young boy who is sent to stay with his Aunt and Uncle while his brother has the measles. It follows his adventures as, bored and lonely, he hears the grandfather clock in the hall strike thirteen, goes exploring the house and finds a mysterious and wonderful Victorian garden which isn’t there in the daytime, filled with inhabitants, including a friendly girl called Hatty, who are strangely out-of-time.

As the lynchpin of this production Arthur Wilson is excellent as Tom, bringing convincingly to life this inquisitive, slightly silly boy with a good heart. Claire Redcliffe is equally well-cast as Hatty, the young girl who despite her differences to Tom, is united with him in her mischievousness and her longing for a sympathetic playmate.

What is striking about this production is the use of the cast who, when not onstage playing the Aunt, Uncle, Tom’s brother or Hatty’s cousins etc, are almost permanently present in the form of a group of spooky time-demons dressed in hats and long coats. They stomp around chillingly keeping time with two walking sticks, whispering to Tom, helping the narrative along and, rather handily, changing the set in a series of wonderfully choreographed sequences.

This makes the whole production flow together in a seamless fashion and is what undoubtedly helps to keep the young audience’s attention from wandering. Added to this are other inventive devices for fleshing out the plot without any heavy-handed over-explaining, such as the letters Tom sends to his brother and the effective use of voiceover soundbites which strike a convincing note of childhood, where it always seems there is some adult voice in your ear telling you what to do.

A play about the passage of time might seem heavy going for such a young audience but this adaptation of Tom’s Midnight Garden is a great theatre experience for the young, a captivating and entertaining story. Unlike many Christmas shows, at no point does this patronises its audience, and almost certainly leave them with a lasting impression of the magic and power of real theatre - not a bad Christmas gift.

Tom’s Midnight Garden, Library Theatre, St Peter’s Square, M2 5PD, Until Jan 12, £15.50

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