Getting ready for The Secret Garden

Sadly tonight's preview of The Secret Garden has been cancelled as the snow has caused unavoidable hold-ups.

All ticket holders are being contacted and offered an exchange to a performance of their choosing (along with a free programme and book) or a full refund. The show will now go on from Friday evening, for the rest of the run, as planned.

THE stage is set . . . well, sort of. There are a few bits missing here and there, the cast is yet to see its final costumes, and many last-minute changes have had to be made.

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But when the curtain opens at the Festival Theatre for the first performance of the award-winning Broadway musical The Secret Garden, the eager Edinburgh audience will likely be none the wiser.

People will have arrived in their masses to enjoy what is tipped as a "magical adventure for Christmas" - a spectacular, enchanting musical for all the family which promises to captivate crowds.

The producers and directors behind the stage adaptation of Francis Hodgson Burnett's classic children's novel are confident they will not be disappointed.

Yet, with just one day to go, it is them, the cast and crew, who are on their edge of their seats after a nail-biting week of preparations riddled with complications owing to the recent bad weather.

"We have the Blitz spirit here though," jokes assistant director Raj Ghatak, leaning over the back of a chair in the auditorium.

"I know it's a cliche to say the show must go on, but it really must. People have paid for tickets so we are all pushing as hard as we can."

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The list of problems he begins to reel off sounds almost unbelievable, beginning with the jaw-dropping revelation that somewhere in the depths of Coventry in a deserted lorry park, a trailer sits stationary, packed with bespoke costumes for the cast, designed and made well in advance for the production. "Because of all the problems with the snow, there just aren't the drivers available to bring the lorry here," explains Raj, who also plays the part of Fakir. "It's OK, though. Our costume supervisor basically used her contacts in Scottish Opera and raided its supplies, yet many of the cast are still getting final fittings.

"We're all working on the proviso that the proper costumes will be here as soon as possible."

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Taking a seat in the stalls of the Nicolson Street venue, Phil McCandlish, the production manager, lets out a sigh as he lists off another stream of problems to have hit his crew, including delays with lighting equipment reaching Edinburgh and a technical hitch with a part for the revolving stage which has involved long communications with experts in London and Los Angeles to finally get resolved.

"We always try to give ourselves a little leeway, but this really is up to the wire," he says.

"But people aren't going to be aware of any of this though. If there is something missing, it will only be us that know.

"Also, I think because of the kind of people that work in this business, we just cope. If you are easily flustered, you shouldn't be doing it.

"The Secret Garden is going to be great and because it is not a panto, it is offering a different type of theatre for Christmas."

For one Edinburgh schoolgirl, landing a lead role in the Secret Garden, and getting to star alongside the likes of Siobhan Redmond, Norman Pace, Graham Bickley and Caspar Phillipson, was an early Christmas present she could only have dreamed of.

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Hand-picked in the spring from a group of budding local actors, 11-year-old Sophie Kavanagh from Mary Erskine's School was chosen by legendary casting director David Grindrod, a colleague of Andrew Lloyd Webber, to play the leading role of Mary Lennox.

In the production, recently orphaned, the youngster goes to live with distant relatives in a sad and lonely house set high on the Yorkshire moors.

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It is there, with the help of a friendly robin, that she discovers the key to a long, locked away secret garden.

With the assistance of a grumpy, yet kind-hearted gardener, Ben Weatherstaff (played by Norman Pace, of Hale and Pace comedy fame), Mary and her friends are able to restore the garden to its former glory, and in doing so breathe life back into the haunted house.

"I'm very excited about the first show," says Sophie, who is just back from three weeks of rehearsals in London and is relaxing backstage in her school uniform with her mum Sarah-Jane.

"And I really hope everyone enjoys it."

Minus any comedy antics, or his well-known sidekick Gareth Hale, downstairs Norman Pace takes a seat near the front of the stage.

On it, cast members are running through lines ahead of a full dress rehearsal, while musicians can be heard in the pit tinkering with parts.

Suddenly, a noisy sound effect blasts a roll of thunder through the busy auditorium, reinforcing a previous suggestion by Raj Ghatak that although the production is family-friendly, there is a darker storyline which will tug at the heart strings of adults.

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"I expect there will be many tears shed," says Norman, a former school teacher who, since the break-up of his famous comedy duo Hale and Pace, has leant towards theatre.

"In fact, if you do not cry at the Secret Garden, you are hard-hearted.

"Oh, look at me, I'm crying thinking about it?!"

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Rubbing his eyes, he praises schoolgirl Sophie and her younger cast members for their dedication to the show, explaining that it is them, and not the older "professionals" who will capture the hearts of the audience.

"This has been a massive group effort and I reckon people should buy two tickets to the show - once they have been, they will want to come again."

• The Secret Garden runs at the Festival Theatre from tomorrow until January 8. For ticket information or bookings visit or call 0131-529 6000.