LAST night's performance of The Secret Garden at The Barn Theatre in Cirencester sent the audience out into the night with a strong sense that they had watched something very special in their town.

This re-working by director Dominic Shaw of Tony-award-winning musical The Secret Garden, based on the 1911 book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is the first professional show at the theatre, following its complete renovation.

And how fitting its was that we witnessed the rebirth of a theatre with a show that tells the story about the restoration of a mysterious garden by 10-year old orphan Mary Lennox and with it the rejuvenation of the grieving family around her.

Although family-friendly, this sensitive piece of theatre does not shy away from confronting the issues of death, grief and loss. All credit to the actors here, particularly David Haydn, who plays grieving widow Archibald Craven and Jaimie Pruden, who is an ethereal presence throughout as his late wife Lily Craven.

The show retains a gothic sensibility thanks in part to designer PJ McEvoy`s impressive back projections, but also to a fantastic lighting team who helped to show this new theatre at its best.

But Dominic's production is also bang up to date thanks to a talented ensemble of actor/musicians who bring a folk/rock energy to the show. Alex James Ellison, as Dickon, steals the show at these moments, and his friendship with Mary is both touching and playful.

Getting Mary right is key, as she is pivotal to so many of the scenes. Played by Daniella Piper, she has the required childlike quality, and a voice that is powerful enough to carry her through the action. Like so many of the cast, she is also a talented musician switching between guitar, piano and ukelele when the moment calls for it.

Although challenging themes are central to The Secret Garden, there is comedy too, thanks in part to Jenny O Leary as Martha.

The use of puppetry to represent those who have departed is innovative. Celeste De Veazey, who plays bedridden cousin Colin Craven, brilliantly uses a puppet to show someone who is existing in the shadows of a half life.

The bar has been set very high with The Secret Garden. Artistic director of The Barn Theatre, Iwan Lewis, can feel rightly proud of the achievement of everyone involved in the show.

  • The Secret Garden opens on March 21 and runs until April 15. Visit or call 01285 648255 for tickets.
  • Critic's rating: *****