WATCHING the cast of The Secret Garden rehearsing for their show, which opens to the public next week at the newly refurbished Barn Theatre in Cirencester, the energy is palpable and infectious.

The ensemble of professional actor/musicians look like they are having a huge amount of fun as, under the assured director of Dominic Shaw, they move at a pace around the room, showing off their versatility as both actors and talented musicians.

Dominic, who brings his skills to The Barn Theatre direct from the West End having previously worked on smash hit shows including Legally Blonde and Kinky Boots, explained: “We are at that magical stage of bringing the cast onto the stage in costume for the first time. It is great to see the show coming to life and how the cast react to the space in the new Barn Theatre. Giving the show over to actor/musicians gives it the feel of a folk gig.

“Hopefully we have done something that hasn’t been done before. We have given a contemporary twist to the story.”

The Barn Theatre artistic director Iwan Lewis is certain that the audience will be excited by what they see on stage. “This is genuinely innovative work. From the interpretation of the music to the use of puppetry, amazing light and design, it has surpassed every expectation,” he said.

The Secret Garden is a Tony Award-winning musical based on the 1911 book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It tells the story of 10 year-old Mary Lennox (played by Daniella Piper), an English girl who has lived in India since birth, and is orphaned and sent back to England to live with her remaining relatives.

There she discovers a house in mourning and a neglected garden. With the help of friends Mary restores the garden and helps to rejuvenate the family.

As a director, Dominic was keen to breathe new life into this classic. “I scaled it down and went back to basics,” he said. “The story has death, pain and darkness but I have tried to breath life and energy into it. It is a story suitable for all ages. I want people to walk away and think the show is full of life, hope and energy.”

Iwan added: “This is a family friendly show but is entertaining for all ages. It deals with relevant themes of loss and moving forward. It also touches on grieving and mental health issues.”

The Barn Theatre is a keen supporter of mental health charities, and the first three shows of the season will touch upon mental health issues in some way.

The Secret Garden designer P J McEvoy has been tasked with the job of bringing Dominic’s vision to life on The Barn Theatre’s brand new stage. “From a design point of view I wanted to show off the new venue as well as the show,” he explained. “Dominic wanted to offer a new version of The Secret Garden and as a designer this has been liberating.

“We want the audience to feel immersed in the action,” he said.

P J has used puppets to create “the dreamers” in the show. “The puppets were conceived by Dom and I to show the flash back sequences,” he explained. “This is very much a metaphorical show about regrowth.”

It is fitting that The Secret Garden, which deals with issues of rebirth and rejuvenation, should be the inaugural professional production in The Barn Theatre.

The last few years have been an incredible journey for the team at the theatre, who have overseen its transformation from community and youth theatre to a fully equipped 200 seat auditorium, with a new stage, orchestra pit and the latest in lighting and sound technology. A new atrium and restaurant piano bar, Teatro, completes the theatre’s ambitions to rival the very best that professional theatre has to offer.

“It is so exciting to be launching a new show in a brand new theatre,” Dominic said.

For the actors, including David Haydn, who plays Archibald Craven, the theatre offers an exciting performance space. “When I watch a show I like to be as close to the action as I can be, and in this theatre it feels very intimate. It is a lovely theatre and the sound, lighting and set designers are creating amazing things,” he said.

The show is running special preview evenings, and has invited nominated local community champions to enjoy the show for free, before it opens next Wednesday.

It is then that Cirencester and the Cotswolds will get a chance to enjoy this newest professional theatre on its doorstep. “Entertaining people is what we are here to do,” Dominic stressed.

  • The Secret Garden is on from March 21-April 15. Visit for more.