The Woman in White
Charing Cross Theatre
Reviewed – 4th December 2017
“the cast float around each other with well choreographed ease”
I spent my teenage years with my nose in a classic book, or two, or three, (or four), but I have to admit I never really enjoyed the writing of Wilkie Collins. In latter years I’ve enjoyed adaptations for stage and screen far more than the novels. They brought to life some of his complex characters and amazing plots. Maybe it was the lawyer in him that made his attention to detail so precise, and my teenage attention span that struggled with his prose.
Written in the mid nineteenth century, the book felt like a detective novel, yet that was a genre that barely existed at the time. Having not seen the original production, I was a little wary of how a classic mystery, complete with Victorian ghosts, could be adapted as a musical, even with a score from the capable hands of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Explaining this plot involves untangling deliberate deception, sinister marriages, and questionable morals. It encompasses several journeys, an asylum, a marriage, and an impossible love affair, not to mention mistaken identities, two huge ‘secrets’ and a potential murder/kidnap to juggle! The cast have the unenviable task of ensuring the audience follows the twists and turns of five intertwined, unfurling lives, through David Zippel’s lyrics.
Charing Cross theatre is not a large venue, but Morgan Large’s adaptable set effortlessly glides to separate centre stage to direct your attention left or right, as well as framing action at the back to effectively shield dramatic entrances. The effect is very atmospheric and spacious, I frequently felt I was part of the journey around the stage throughout the story.
The score has been revised for this new production and is performed to perfection by the live orchestra conducted by Simon Holt. The acoustics of this old Music Hall aid the wonderful voices of the cast who float around each other with well choreographed ease. As an ensemble their voices harmonise beautifully, and the lyrics afford some humour to the tale.
The story has many protagonists pivotal to the plot, each presence on stage needs to command attention – and does. There is more than one leading lady and more than one villain at work. And the hero of the piece may just be a heroine. Carolyn Maitland, Anna O’Byrne and Sophie Reeves (Mariam, Laura and Anne) have equally stunning voices. Each sings with the other at some point throughout the show to great effect. Different songs leave you feeling each has out-sung the other until the next number and the dynamic shifts.
Ashley Stillburn, Chris Peluso and Greg Castiglioni work wonderfully as Walter, Glyde and Count Fosco – the latter turning in an amazing comic cameo in the middle of the second act to much applause.
The show has lightened the tone from the original novel without losing the mystery – and with a twist at the end that remains a surprise. The Woman in White with its accomplished cast and tremendous score should be one of everyone’s Christmas shows to see.
Reviewed by Joanna Hinson
Photography by Darren Bell
The Woman in White
is at the Charing Cross Theatre until 10th February