Tag Archives: David Woodward

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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The Black Veil

★★★

Theatre Royal Windsor & UK Tour

The Black Veil

The Black Veil

Theatre Royal Windsor

Reviewed – 3rd March 2020

★★★

 

“if you enjoy high Victorian melodrama, this is a spirited piece with some memorably dark (if rather improbable) moments”

 

‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’. This play is loosely based on a short story by Charles Dickens, first published in book form in 1836. Like many of the other ‘Sketches by Boz’ it’s a yarn that evokes the grim poverty and colourful street life of early Victorian London that Dickens knew so well. Many of the stories were first published to popular acclaim in the newspapers and periodicals of the day.

Playwright John Goodrum has taken fewer than 4,500 words by Dickens and spun them out in new directions, building a wordy melodrama that is long on operatic moments and is as dark as the black curtain-hung set (design by the playwright) in which it is presented. According to the programme, his inspiration is as much Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White) as it is Dickens. Chesterfield-based Rumpus Theatre Company was formed in 1994 to perform a much earlier play by the same author.

The piece opens with a promising tableau scene, with some impressive lighting and sound effects (Keith Tuttle and David Gilbrook). Late one evening, an inexperienced young doctor (Christopher Brookes) receives a mysterious black-veiled visitor at his rooms near St Paul’s. At length she speaks, and explains that a terrible tragedy is about to befall someone dear to her. She begs the good doctor to visit her home in Limehouse the following morning. He is drawn in to a dark web of deception and tragedy that spirals via more than one improbable twist to an outlandish conclusion unimagined by Dickens himself.

Dorkas Ashar (once Bert Fry’s wife in ‘The Archers’), gives a good performance as the inevitably eponymous and suitably Dickensian sounding Ada Crawlings, who remains veiled for her entire appearance. In the spirit of Victorian theatre, Director Karen Henson has made a play that is big on vocal and gestural effect and this was reflected in all the performances, including that by John Goodrum himself as Luke Gunford. Sarah Wynne Kordas appears in the second half as Carla Blackstock, as the pace of the play picks up and the young doctor receives more shocks than any therapist would ever dare prescribe.

A subtler interpretation could easily be imagined, but if you enjoy high Victorian melodrama, this is a spirited piece with some memorably dark (if rather improbable) moments.

 

Reviewed by David Woodward

 


The Black Veil

Theatre Royal Windsor until 7th March then UK tour continues

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Trials Of Oscar Wilde | ★★★★ | March 2019
Octopus Soup! | ★★½ | April 2019
The Mousetrap | ★★★★ | October 2019
The Nutcracker | ★★★★ | November 2019
What’s In A Name? | ★★★★ | November 2019
Ten Times Table | ★★★★ | January 2020
The Last Temptation Of Boris Johnson | ★★★½ | February 2020
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story | ★★★★ | February 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews