The grandfather clock strikes 13 and a young boy wanders down the stairs. Sent to his aunt and uncle’s house in an attempt to avoid a measles infection at home, Tom is lonely and bored. So when he opens the door into a secret midnight garden and meets the mysterious girl Hatty, he suddenly has a whole new world to discover.
Philippa Pearce’s children’s novel Tom’s Midnight Garden has remained hugely popular since it was first published in 1958. And now Birmingham Stage Company bring their acclaimed production of the story to the city’s Old Rep Theatre.
Actors David Tute and Caitlin Thorburn took the lead parts of Tom and Hatty during a six week run in London and both are due to return to the roles for the Birmingham dates and the tour which follows it.
David is eager to become Tom again – but admits it has its challenges.
“In a weird way I am looking forward to it more this time round. Having already played the part for six weeks I am totally comfortable with it,” he says. “It has become second nature now and I am looking forward to going back to it and playing it all again to really bed down the ideas of fun and freedom which Tom has.”
For David, playing a 10-year-old boy is actually an adventure all of its own.
“I’m 24 so there’s 14 years between us. But I have always been a big kid – I think as an actor you have to be. I teach workshops to young actors and I always tell them that being an actor gives you the chance to play.
In society you are always being told to be an adult and it pushes that sense of play out of you. But being an actor, particularly when you are playing the part of a child, gives you the OK to play and be a child again.”
Directed by Birmingham Stage Company actor/manager Neal Foster, Tom’s Midnight Garden has been adapted from the novel by David Wood whose other collaborations with BSC include The Witches and James and the Giant Peach.
But David Tute says audiences will be in for a surprise.
“Previous productions have been very minimalist and you didn’t really see the garden. In our production the audience is taken on a journey.
“To begin with we are in this 1950s house and for a while the garden isn’t there. But when the garden is revealed by theatrical magic the audience goes ‘wow’.
“And they go on the journey with Tom. That is the best bit, when you hear them respond to the garden.”
David admits that he came to Tom’s Midnight Garden as an adult.
“I had not heard of the story beforehand but I have got quite a few friends who are teachers in primary school and when they found out I had the part they told me they just loved the story.
“When I got the call to go to the audition I didn’t have time to read the book beforehand but I watched a television series from the 1970s. I watched as many versions as I could and then when I got the part I read the book and I read it a few times before we went in rehearsal.
“And when I read it I agreed with what everyone had been saying about it. It has got so many layers to it that it appeals to everyone in the family.
“You’ve got a family story there, you’ve got lost childhood, mystery.
“Because I am an only child I connected with Tom.
“Not that I was a lonely child but that sense of having imagination, making dens, living in pretend.
“All of a sudden Tom is using his imagination in this wonderful world.”
Caitlin Thorburn, who plays the child Hatty, also understands this sense of temporary isolation. Born in Epsom, she moved to the US when she was six and was 14 when she returned.
“I definitely know what it means to be isolated as a child,” she recalls.
“When I came back from America I really hated it to begin with. I was just that weird American girl whose clothes were weird.
“Children do see that you are different. I used to play soccer in America but when I came here all the girls played hockey.
“They told me I either needed to learn to play hockey or go and play football with the boys!”
Luckily it didn’t take long for Caitlin to settle in.
“And one of the good things about being back in England was that it got me into acting,” she says. “It turned out when they did the school timetable the subjects I wanted to do didn’t fit so I had to do acting.”
Caitlin, now 24, is already balancing a mix of theatre and television.
Having spent last Christmas playing Hatty, she is keen to return to the role.
“It is quite difficult to find shows at Christmas unless you want to do pantomime,” she says.
“It is really good to be in a Christmas show that people enjoy and respect.
“Lots of people love the book and have seen the film and so this show is something special for them.”
* Birmingham Stage Company’s Tom’s Midnight Garden is at Birmingham Old Rep from November 12 to Jan 27. Tel: 0121 245 4455 and www.birmingham-box.co.uk for tickets information.