You’re very conscious of entering a university building as you approach the theatre from Anglia Ruskin’s impressive East Road entrance. You go straight ahead, past the reception, student bookshops and seminar rooms, before turning right at the university library to find the corridor that leads to the auditorium. From my perspective that made the evening even more interesting, giving me the chance to see the university’s newly revamped campus. The auditorium seats are well raked and comfortable, and there’s a bar, ice cream, and decent loos (the ones back by the library are spacious), so no need to panic there!
The Mumford is Anglia Ruskin University’s theatre, based on its East Road campus, and hosts a wide range of productions, put on by small travelling companies and student societies.
As you might expect, the tickets are more reasonably priced than at some of Cambridge’s larger venues and, correspondingly, the stage isn’t massive and there are limitations to the performances that can be staged. However, the adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden I saw at the Mumford yesterday simply had no need of anything more complicated than what was on offer.
Angel Exit Theatre used five actors and a minimal set to put on one of the most creative, inventive, uplifting and satisfying performances I’ve seen.
The actors interacted with the set, boosting the effect of the smallest of props. Holding cupboard doors they moved in unison to represent shifting corridors in the dark and forbidding house of the heroine, Mary’s, uncle as she tried to find her way around her new, unnerving world. The unconventional way of representing her surroundings actually made it easier to imagine her panic at feeling lost than it would have been with a static set. Everywhere she turned the way looked unfamiliar.
Again, the actors formed an integral part of the scenery when Mary and Dickon entered the secret garden. The other players on stage held up decorated twines to represent the overgrown foliage, and used their arms to form twisted branches.
One mat in the centre of the stage could be used either way up, with fake grass on one side when the action was outside, and a traditional fireplace rug design on the other, when the action moved indoors.
There was a humorous informality about the performance, though with no loss of professionalism or polish. The atmosphere resulted from subtle interaction with the audience (a jokey little flourish as the grass/fireside rug mat was flung over to its appropriate side), as well as members of the cast changing into new costumes on stage. (One of the rose bushes donned an apron and mob cap to become Martha, the maid.) Never for a moment was there any confusion about who was who, despite the fact that characters played multiple parts. (Mrs Medlock became Mary’s cousin Colin – not bad going! – Archibald Craven and the gardener were played by the same actor).
Storytelling, physical theatre, music and traditional acting were combined to wonderful effect. It was funny, engaging, interesting and surprising and (as is probably fairly clear by now) I loved it.
The company continues its tour through February and March and you can see the dates here. You can also sign up for mailings about future events, as you can for events at the Mumford.
There upcoming season at the theatre has plenty more shows to tempt me in.