The secret’s out: Interview with The Secret Garden’s Ella Dunlop

Running from 27th July, this year’s Theatre Royal summer spectacular will see a classic story brought to the stage. We caught up with Ella Dunlop, star of The Secret Garden.


Hello. Who are you?

Hello. I’m Ella Dunlop.


What do you do?

I’m an actor, currently playing Mary Lennox in a production of The Secret Garden at York Theatre Royal this summer. She’s an orphan sent to live with an uncle in a mysterious manor on the wild Yorkshire Moors. With the help of some friends she sets about discovering the legend of its secret garden.


Tell us about The Secret Garden.

It’s fun, it’s lovely. I knew the story as it’s a story my parents loved and read to me as a child. I watched the film when I was tiny and was absolutely terrified of the Maggie Smith character. It’s nice to do a story that you already know and that’s such a classic but to revive it in a new way, especially with the all the challenges of the animals and how are you going to do that?


Who will most enjoy seeing it?

It’s for all ages. The puppets are gorgeous and the story is accessible for children and adults. Older adults will completely remember the story from when they were growing up. It’s true to the book. We haven’t changed anything dramatically. The beauty of the story is that it’s quite a simple tale of discovery and finding out secrets and creating a new life. So it’s very uplifting. It will be perfect for summer holidays for kids. It’s very entertaining and the pace is very quick.

How did you get into acting?

I graduated from drama school last year so I haven’t been in the business that long but I wanted to be an actor for as long as I can remember. I started at Stagecoach when I was about six, and have been singing as well as acting since then. I was in Salisbury Stagecoach and through a link with the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton we got to be the children’s chorus in their professional shows. I got to miss school and be a kid in Scrooge, Whistle Down the Wind, Joseph and lots of other shows. For ten years when there was a show at the Mayflower that needed children I was one of the kids. I got to see all of the adult actors and had so much fun doing it. I thought ‘oh they’re doing this for a job – that’s so cool’. I went to Rose Bruford in 2014 and graduated last year.


Would you recommend it as a career to other people your age?

If they really, really want to do it and can’t think of anything else that would satisfy them career-wise and can’t imagine doing another job. When you are not in work as an actor it’s not the best and quite demoralising when you have a string of rejection. You have to build quite a thick skin. When you’re in work, it’s absolutely amazing. And to be able to call this work and get paid for it is a bit bizarre, it still hasn’t sunk it.

Highlight of your career so far?

Probably The Secret Garden. I keep saying that about each one that comes up. This will be the biggest theatre I will have performed in since graduating and the biggest role I will have had.


What’s next for you after The Secret Garden?

I have no idea. We’ll see. I’ve been very lucky with a string of roles in the past year, but who knows?


And finally (yet importantly)… if you could have any super power, what would it be, and how would you use it?

It would be really cool to fly but everyone says that. It would also be really good to be invisible but I think I would use that in the wrong way. This is a tricky question. If I was invisible I would probably go into the room to eavesdrop on people and then get upset if they were talking about me. Oh, I would be a shapeshifter – click your fingers and you could be anything.


Ella Dunlop is appearing in The Secret Garden at York Theatre Royal from 27th July to 25th August. Box office 01904 623568 and online


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