The Birmingham Rep's Christmas show will mark the end of an era for the theatre. Diane Parkes talks to the leading actress.
When actress Amy Lennox first began rehearsals for the lead role in The Secret Garden she admits it did cause a little confusion – as she is playing the part of Mary Lennox.
But after a couple of days of amusement, her fellow cast members in the show at Birmingham Repertory Theatre soon remembered which Lennox was which.
For Amy there were more challenges to the role than simply remembering the name, as she is an adult taking on the part of a child less than half her age.
“It is a case of a 25-year-old playing a 10-year-old but I do tend to be cast in children’s roles as I look quite young,” says Amy.
Having played Lisle in The Sound of Music, Wendy in Peter Pan and a youngster in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Amy now has those child roles nailed.
“The thing is that you can’t pretend you are a child, you just have to play the part,” she says. “And the audience will quickly believe in you and go along with you. You have been cast because of the way you look but if you try to actually be young it won’t work.”
The role of Mary is also a challenge as she is not a particularly nice girl when the story begins.
“You have to remember that she has had a very unhappy childhood and she has never been loved,” says Amy. “Her parents have never loved her then there is an outbreak of cholera and she is packed off to this cold house in Yorkshire with a man who doesn’t even want her there and she is all alone.
“That is the reason she seems such a cold-hearted and nasty little girl.”
In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s story, Mary only begins to open up to the world when she discovers a secret garden and is befriended by a local boy Dickon.
“She becomes the little girl who makes everything happen,” says Amy. “The house only becomes alive and magical because of her.”
Directed by Ian Brown, The Secret Garden is a musical which was first staged at West Yorkshire Playhouse last Christmas and Amy says she was tempted to be a part of the production then.
“I would have really loved the part but I was with Legally Blonde,” she says. “I did a year with the West End show playing Margot and covering Sheridan Smith for Elle and I was the lead 40 or 50 times, so I felt I had gone as far as I could with that.
“So this came at just the right time. And it is such a different kind of show.”
But despite the book, which this year celebrates its centenary, being a constant favourite for children, Amy has only recently read it.
“When you read it as an adult you see different things. You see that the adults also have their problems and their heartaches. And you can see the garden in a metaphorical way.
“The show will be the same. Children and adults will respond to it in a different way. For adults it is very much as story about a personal journey of discovery.
“And I am sure every little girl in the audience will be carried away by Mary’s story and by the idea of her being the one who makes everything happen. And all children love the idea of a secret place they can run away to whenever they want.”
The Secret Garden is a landmark production for the Rep as it will be the last show before the theatre closes for two years for a massive redevelopment which will see it joining with the new city library and the creation of a new smaller theatre.
Although the Rep will continue to present plays from other venues across the city, when the curtain descends on The Secret Garden on January 8, it also descends on the theatre as we know it.
“It is exciting to be part of that,” says Amy. “I have never worked here before so I can’t picture how the theatre was before the work started. But I hope I am able to come back and work here again once it is all finished. It would be good to see it then.”
* The Secret Garden, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, until January 8. Tickets: 0121 236 4455, www.birmingham-rep.co.uk