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Review: Tom’s Midnight Garden

Looking for a special and screen-free summer afternoon the kids will love? Take 'em to this charming and emotive midsummer ballet based on a children's classic.

Summer holidays are made for outdoor performances, as are Sussex’s green spaces. Local dance company Frankly Speaking Productions are taking their midsummer ballet Tom’s Midnight Garden around some of the county’s prettiest gardens and parks, with tickets still available for the next scheduled stops at Crawley’s Worth Park, Goffs Park and Tilgate Park, before crossing the border into Surrey.

At just an hour long, the performance is perfect for even very young children with limited attention spans. We packed a picnic for the performance at Lewes’ Southover Grange Gardens and settled ourselves onto a blanket. There was enough space for everybody to socially distance should they want to, and perhaps more pressingly, for restless littlies to run around if the effort of sitting for an hour got too much for them.

Based on the classic novel by Philippa Pearce, widely regarded as one of the greatest works of children’s literature, Tom’s Midnight Garden tells the story of a young boy who is sent to quarantine at his aunt and uncle’s flat for the summer. Bored and lonely, Tom hears the grandfather clock strike at midnight but counts 13 strikes – and the adventure begins.

It’s a complex plot to convey in an hour, but the friendship between Tom and young Hatty, struck up in the mysterious garden he discovers, is beautifully expressed through dance and limited dialogue. The set is compact but magical, and this being an outdoor performance, may feature unexpected additions like the butterflies we saw fluttering past. Children, including my own, were entranced by the dancing and I saw several toddlers happily trying out their own moves to the lovely classical score.

Ultimately Tom’s Midnight Garden is about the passage of time and this is expressed extremely emotively. Hatty’s wedding to Barty was unmistakeably and joyfully conveyed and the ice skating scene brought Christmas-like nostalgia. I cried when an elderly Hatty revealed herself to be none other than the reclusive landlady living above Tom and his family and the true secret of the garden was revealed – it existed only in an old woman’s memory.

The best family entertainment speaks both to children and adults. For younger ones, the dancing is compelling and inspiring. For us less young ones, the themes explored will strike a chord. And for everybody, young and old, Tom’s Midnight Garden is a delightful way to enjoy a summer afternoon that will leave you with joyful memories.

Tom’s Midnight Garden: A Midsummer Ballet will be performed by Frankly Speaking Productions at Worth Park, Crawley on July 31, Goffs Park on August 1, Tilgate Park on August 2 and The Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden, near Dorking on August 5.

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