Tag Archives: Anna Kelsey

The Wicker Husband

The Wicker Husband


Watermill Theatre

The Wicker Husband

The Wicker Husband

Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 16th March 2020



“a performance of enormous range and sparkling energy”


There’s something remarkable happening at the picturesque Watermill Theatre in Newbury. On the night that London theatres closed and coronavirus gloom descended upon the nation, I was privileged to be part of an evening of pure enchantment, as a musical over eight years in the making made its debut on this most creative of stages.

First, forget whatever other associations the title The Wicker Husband may conjure. This has nothing to do with the film The Wicker Man. Second, prepare to be transported into a bright and delightful mythic world that is based on a short story by Ursula Wills-Jones and wonderfully adapted for the stage by Rhys Jennings (book) and Darren Clark (music and lyrics).

This sweet and affecting story is profoundly moral in an entirely natural way. It is a very English tale of the trees and water that somehow seems to draw both on Yorkshire mystery plays and American musical theatre. It asks the questions that social media so often gets wrong. Where does beauty really reside? And what’s it like to be an outsider, shunned by all the pretty people?

A multi-talented company of 12 are joined on the Watermill’s tiny stage by a number of wicker puppets made and operated in the exposed Japanese ‘bunraku’ style (think Warhorse). These extraordinary and beautiful creations by Finn Caldwell and team are brought to life by Eilon Morris, Yazdan Qafouri and Scarlet Wilderink. Qafouri (a winner of BBC One’s Let It Shine) has one of the many fine voices in this show. He is more than matched by Laura Johnson as the Ugly Girl, for whom the wicker husband is created. Here is a performance of enormous range and sparkling energy.

Julian Forsyth has a pivotal role as the Old Basketmaker whose weaving gives new life to the willow withies, sea grass and blackthorn. He has an impressive stage presence and a fine singing voice. Other members of this cracking and committed cast are Jack Beale, Angela Caesar (who as well as being an actor is also an opera singer and one of three fine violinists in the show), Claire-Marie Hall, Stephen Leask and Zoë Rainey.

The show interweaves puppetry with some two dozen catchy ballads, several dance routines (Steven Harris) and any number of opportunities for the cast’s instrumental skills to shine, with some highly effective lighting by Hartley TA Kemp, clean and effective design by Anna Kelsey and inspired direction by Charlotte Westenra.

As the programme describes, this production is the result of several dedicated years of workshops, competitions and mentoring. It is a fine testimony to the enormous creativity of the British stage and a highly recommended antidote to much else that besets us now.


Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Johan Persson


The Wicker Husband

Watermill Theatre until 4th April


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Murder For Two | ★★★★ | February 2019
Macbeth | ★★★ | March 2019
Amélie | ★★★★★ | April 2019
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★★ | May 2019
Assassins | ★★★★★ | September 2019


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Exodus – 4 Stars



Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 5th November 2018


“explores themes such as austerity, immigration, suicide and depression in a sensitive, thought-provoking way”


Set in South Wales on the eve of the demolition of the last factory in town, Exodus follows four friends as they build a plane in order to escape their town in search of a better life. Although, for the most part, a humorous play, Exodus explores themes such as austerity, immigration, suicide and depression in a sensitive, thought-provoking way.

Characters include Mary (Gwenllian Higginson), Ray (Liam Tobin), Gareth (Berwyn Pearce) and Timmy (Karim Bedda). Tobin and Pearce provide the majority of the comedy in the show, as Ray and Gareth, bouncing off each other well. They can have a tendency to be slightly overpowering and loud in the small theatre space, but it can’t be denied that both actors bring high levels of enthusiasm to their roles. Bedda portrays Timmy, a refugee who never speaks, but is a talented violinist, showing this by frequently performing live throughout the play. Whilst the other three characters are able to express themselves through speech, Bedda effectively performs through the playing of his instrument, which acts as his character’s voice and story.

Running alongside the plot of the building of the plane and preparations for the flight is Mary’s individual story, depicting town life and the struggles faced. Higginson does a fantastic job of engaging the audience throughout and is able to display a range of emotions extremely well. The transitions between the scenes with all four actors to Higginson’s monologues are seamless, with the remaining actors sitting down in sync and staring ahead, motionless. This adds to our engagement with what the character of Mary goes on to say and allows our focus to be solely on her.

Movement, directed by Emma Vickery, is brilliantly executed. A particular highlight is a sequence in which the group undertake “training” to deal with the possibility of thunderstorms during their flight, where lighting design by Katy Morison, as well as the violin music, enhances the scene further.

Exodus is, on the surface, a comedy. However, in reality, it’s much more than that. Universal themes are explored and, although set in Wales, this is a play that could be set pretty much anywhere in the UK. The cast and creative team, well led by writer and director Rachael Boulton, must be congratulated for the effort that has clearly gone into a production that’s both entertaining and moving.


Reviewed by Emily K Neal

Photography by Tom Flannery



Finborough Theatre until 20th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Imaginationship | ★★ | January 2018
Into the Numbers | ★★★★ | January 2018
Booby’s Bay | ★★★★ | February 2018
Cyril’s Success | ★★★ | February 2018
Checkpoint Chana | ★★★★ | March 2018
Returning to Haifa | ★★★★ | March 2018
White Guy on the Bus | ★★★★ | March 2018
Gracie | ★★★★ | April 2018
Masterpieces | ★★ | April 2018
Break of Noon | ★½ | May 2018
The Biograph Girl | ★★★ | May 2018
Finishing the Picture | ★★★★ | June 2018
But it Still Goes on | ★★★★ | July 2018
Homos, or Everyone in America | ★★★★ | August 2018
A Winning Hazard | ★★★★ | September 2018
Square Rounds | ★★★ | September 2018
A Funny Thing Happened … | ★★★★ | October 2018
Bury the Dead | ★★★★ | November 2018


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