The Woman in White review at Charing Cross Theatre, London – ‘hard to take seriously’
When Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ 19th century mystery novel premiered at the West End’s Palace Theatre in 2004 it was not a hit – and it’s easy to see why.
The tone swoops from straight adaptation to mockery of Collins’ unmitigated sensationalism – and though Thom Southerland’s stripped-back revival is one of many strengths and is elevated by an excellent cast, the show’s problems still persist.
Following the convoluted story of two sisters, a lover, an evil husband and a vision of a mysterious woman, The Woman in White is hard to take seriously. But whether that’s a result of the show itself or its melodramatic source material seems to vary from scene to scene.
In Lloyd Webber’s score, spiky vignettes of song attempt – unsuccessfully – to coalesce. These eventually give way to the exuberant love songs we expect of the good Lord and when these melodies soar, so does the musical – but it takes a long time for that to happen.
Despite the piece’s many faults, Southerland’s production is as strong as his reputation now demands. From Jonathan Lipman’s period costumes to a set with sliding panels that allows characters to come on and off unnoticed, the 19th century really comes alive in this production; it’s all gothic chill and thick mist.
Overlaying Southerland’s brave salvage attempt is a fantastic cast. There are some super harmonies and stunning solos from Anna O’Byrne as Laura, Carolyn Maitland as her sister, the magnificent Marian Halcombe, and Sophie Reeves as the eponymous woman in white.
Ashley Stillburn’s beautiful tenor makes for a charming Walter, and Greg Castiglioni’s villianous Count Fosco has a virtuoso moment singing I Can Get Away With Anything. His solo is a comic high point.
As enjoyable as Southerland’s production is though, it feels like this cast and creative team are wasted on this mediocre material.