Review: Cape Town Theatre Company’s stage adaption of The Secret Garden is enchanting family entertainment – positive thinking and attitudes – to calibrate us for 2023

The Secret Garden 

When: December 9 – 17, 2022

Where: The Star Theatre at HCC (Homecoming Centre- formerly The Fugard), Cape Town
Company: Cape Town Theatre Company
Tickets: From R150
Booking platform: Quicket
Booking link:
Running time: 2 hours (with a 20-minute interval)
Age advisory: Family

Parking: Available at the parking lot on Caledon Street Wheelchair accessibility for main stalls


Cape Town Theatre Company’s, The Secret Garden, adapted from the 1911 novel of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is enchanting family entertainment. It is a story about the power of positive thinking and the necessity of changing our attitudes and approaches. It is story about self-actualisation and healing. Let’s face it- we need that to calibrate us -for 2023.

Direction is by Stephan Fourie and he has written the script with Hema Maskowitz, adapted from the novel. At the centre is a young girl, Mary. After her parents die from cholera in British Colonial India, she is dispatched to live with her uncle in Yorkshire, in the UK. Mary is helpless as she has been mollycoddled by a coterie of servants in India and in England, it is another story as she has to learn to do things for herself – and radically change – in her new landscape. The storyline resonates very much in terms of now – in this post-pandemic festive season (sort of post-pandemic – the virus is still lingering). Many people have been through drastic times – physically and emotionally. Change is not easy. It is said that we cannot choose what happens to us (logotherapy – Victor Frankl and others). but we can choose how we respond. That is easier said than done. The power of theatre and musical productions like The Secret Garden is that live performance- provides a sensory experience – to transcend realities – which are not easy to face.

The musical soundtrack for The Secret Garden is stirring. The set (using the full volume of the theatre – designed by Fourie) is a wow. It is almost a character on its own- soaring beyond the confines of the physical. It moves. It conceals and reveals the protagonists and magical creatures (amazing puppets). I have seen a lot of productions in 2022 and I have to say that this one of the most impressive sets I have seen this year [2022].  Cape Town Theatre Company is a community theatre outfit and it is a pity that this set won’t be considered for mainstream awards. This set is a marvel. It is an abstract and conceptual manifestation, amplifying the journey of the young Mary as she rises above her situation. She unlocks the ‘secret garden’, becomes a humble person, connects with nature and others and there is space for wonders to occur.

There are two casts. We saw the ‘portrait cast’ and were captivated by the singing and characterisation. As I said in my recent review of the Masque Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty, with community theatre, there are rigorous auditions for principal roles but community theatre is very much about providing a space for those who want to be part of theatre. So, yes, some performers are ‘stronger’ than others. Some of the performers in this company have had professional musical training but work in other fields, in terms of their ‘day jobs’. All of them bring passion and energy to the stage.

The Secret Garden is a joy to watch. I did feel that the first half could have done with a snip and a trim (keeping with the garden theme). The magic is heightened in the 2nd half – with the marvellous set and soundtrack – creatures and the emotional and spiritual growth of the protagonists. And oh that set – emblematic of the striving and reaching to unlock areas which seem unreachable. It is beautifully lit with a wonderful lighting plot by Hema Maskowitz.

I think that The Secret Garden is a remarkable achievement by a community theatre company and look forward to seeing what the company stages in 2023. It makes a lot of sense to adapt novels which have passed copyright requirements – taking stories from page to stage. I enjoyed the company’s The Great Gatsby, earlier this year (at the same venue) and with The Secret Garden, again it is an opportunity to see a novel vividly imaged on stage.

The Great Gatsby, a lovely production, was hampered in the first half, by clunky and awkward moving of set and props. Whoah, in The Secret Garden, with this set, we have a marvel (yes, using that description again) of design and engineering and seamless transitions between scenes-awesome. Bravo to Cape Town Theatre Company. Please use this set again. It could lend itself as canvas for another inspirational story.

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