The Wicker Husband
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:
THE SORROWS OF SATAN
Written by Luke Bateman & Michael Conley
Directed by Adam Lenson
Tristan Bates Theatre, London | 14 February – 25 March 2017
Casting announced for The Sorrows of Satan, a brand new musical play, based on one of the world’s first bestselling novels
The Sorrows of Satan is written by musical theatre writing duo Bateman and Conley and directed by Adam Lenson (Songs for a New World, St. James Theatre) and runs at Tristan Bates for six weeks, opening on 21 February with previews from 14 February
Cast includes Stefan Bednarczyk, Claire-Marie Hall, Dale Rapley and Simon Willmont
Stefan Bednarczyk plays Amiel. He has appeared in Mike Leigh’s Oscar-winning film Topsy Turvy and most recently as Foster Jenkins in Florence Foster Jenkins. He is a renowned solo cabaret performer, who has performed acclaimed seasons at Crazy Coqs, The Pheasantry, Pizza on the Park, King’s Head and Jermyn St. Theatre in London. Acting roles include a year-long run opposite Gene Wilder in Laughter on the 23rd Floor (Queen’s Theatre), Semi-Monde (Lyric), The Games of Love and Chance (National Theatre), The LA Plays (Almeida), Five O’Clock Angel (Hampstead and King’s Head), The Killing Of Mr Toad, The Grand Duke (Finborough), Noel Coward’s Christmas Spirits (St. James Theatre) and The Importance of Being Earnest (Riverside Studios). His films include Friends Pictured Within, Composed, Sea-Change and Topsy-Turvy.
Claire-Marie Hall plays ‘the Woman’. She studied at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Theatre includes Between Empires (Symposium Hall, Edinburgh), The King and I (Curve Theatre and National Tour), Aladdin (New Wimbledon Theatre and Hackney Empire), High School Musical (Hammersmith Apollo and National Tour) and Les Miserables (Queen’s Theatre, West End).
Dale Rapley plays Lucio. He trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Theatre credits include Aladdin (Lyric Hammersmith), Richard III (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown (West End), Wicked (UK tour), Larisa & The Merchants (Arcola), Hello Dolly! & Piaf (Curve, Leicester), Dangerous Lady (Theatre Royal Stratford East), The Lady in The Van (Hull Truck), The Tempest & King Lear (Actors From The London Stage, US), The Merchant of Venice & Holding Fire (Shakespeare’s Globe), Heartbreak House (Palace, Watford), A Model Girl (Greenwich Theatre), Professor Bernhardi (Arcola), Mamma Mia! (Prince Edward & tour), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, High Society (Regents Park Open Air Theatre), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC), Six Characters Looking for an Author (Young Vic), Eden End & Arms and the Man (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Private Lives, Virtual Reality, A Word from our Sponsor, Dreams from a Summer House, Rocket to the Moon (Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough), Lady into Fox (Lyric Hammersmith). Forthcoming productions include the UK tour of The Addams Family.
Simon Willmont plays Geoffrey. He trained at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA). Theatre credits include Mamma Mia! (International tour), Shady Business (UK tour), Beauty & the Beast (Engine House, Barnsley Civic), Blood Brothers (Phoenix Theatre, London & National Tours),The Hired Man, Cinderella, Stories for Christmas (Theatre by the Lake, Keswick), Jack & the Beanstalk (Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham), Everybody Loves Jason (Leicester Square Theatre), Rumpelstiltskin, Love & Other Ambiguities (Greenwich Theatre & Brighton Festival), The Adventures of Robin Hood (Gardner Arts Centre, Brighton), Girls Night Out (UK tour), Fabula Urbis (Greenwich Theatre) and Never Saw The Day (UK tour).
Based on Marie Corelli’s 1895 controversial bestseller, this new musical play reimagines the story of Faust in the heart of a corrupt 1920s London, where the elite are financially and emotionally bankrupt and one man has a big decision to make.
Pretentiously avant-garde musical playwright Geoffrey Tempest has been kicked out of his accommodations with not a penny to his name. He has one chance to prove himself to the theatrical community: a rehearsed reading of his musical play, The Sorrows of Satan. When his patron, the prodigal Prince Lucio Rimânez, suggests some significant changes, Geoffrey must decide whether to hold on to his artistic integrity (for what it’s worth) or sell out for the promise of fame, money and the love of his leading lady.
The Sorrows of Satan is written by Luke Bateman (Mr Popper’s Penguins) and Michael Conley and directed by Kevin Spacey Artist of Choice Award winner Adam Lenson (Songs for a New World, St. James Theatre). Casting and further creative details are to be announced.
THE SORROWS OF SATAN
Tuesday 14 February – Saturday 25 March 2017
1A Tower Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9NP.
Running time TBC – Age guidance 12+
Tickets: £20 (£18) All previews £14
Box Office 020 3841 6611