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The Woman in White review at Palace London

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Since The Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber does not appear to have made much advance or to have had enormous success with his own shows. This is again the case with this adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ classic mystery novel, which appears to be remarkably intractable to stage or television versions.

It would, on the surface, seem a fairly easy task but once again it defies the efforts of director Trevor Nunn, book writer Charlotte Jones, lyricist David Zippel and, not least, Lloyd Webber, a Victorian enthusiast. Lloyd Webber can still write a good tune but it invariably echoes some of those he has written previously.

The one man who has met the challenge successfully is designer William Dudley, whose remarkable projected images are astonishingly realistic as they whirl round the stage. So much so that, as the train under which the rapacious Sir Percival Glyde meets his doom hurtles out of the tunnel, many of us involuntarily inclined to the right. This is ‘art meets technology’ at its most effective.

Performance-wise, it is undoubtably Maria Friedman’s evening. Again saddled with a role as a seemingly unattractive young woman – which of course she isn’t – her Marian Halcombe has the best songs and acting opportunities, which she grabs gratefully. Michael Crawford, on the other hand, playing the comic villain Count Fosco in a fat suit and a curly wig, is decidedly short of both humour and songs, though his second-half number, delivered impervious to the live rat which scuttles around his collar, is the most noteworthy in the show, desperately rhymed though it may be.

As for the other principals – Angela Christian as the Woman in White and Jill Paice as Marian’s half-sister Laura – they are unable to inject much colour aside from pale hues. Oliver Darley’s Sir Percival is a fairly muted rascal and the sinister aspects of Mr Fairlie, played by Edward Petherbridge, appear to have undergone a bypass.

But I will cherish the memory of that remarkable scenic design.

Production Information

Palace, London, Opened September 15

Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Zippel, Charlotte Jones adapted from the novel by Wilkie Collins
Trevor Nunn
Sonia Friedman Productions and The Really Useful Theatre Company
Cast includes
Maria Friedman, Michael Crawford, Angela Christian, Martin Crewes, Jill Paice, Oliver Darley, Edward Petherbridge
Running time

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