Wednesday 6 December 2017

The Woman In White @ The Charing Cross Theatre

The Woman In White @ The Charing Cross Theatre

At its heart, The Woman In White is a Victorian mystery. Based on the 1859 novel from Wilkie Collins, this musical treatment from Andrew Lloyd Webber (with lyrics from David Zippel and book by Charlotte Jones) tells a haunting story of abuse, love, and the downfall of a dastardly gentleman at the hands of some vengeful women.

This mystery, however, is wholly predictable - both in its plot and its music. The story remains a fun ride, even with its twists and turns easily deciphered, and Lloyd Webber's score marries operatic grandeur with pop melodies, lush orchestration with sinister synthesisers. That's to say, it's typical Lloyd Webber stuff.

The creative team also pilfer liberally from across musical theatre, but perhaps most of all from Sondheim's Sweeney Todd (and not just for its comedy Italian tenor). It's more ghostly than bloody, but the show has a similarly gothic mood, a complex score of recurring leitmotifs, and a theme of revenge.

This production, directed by Thom Southerland, is the show's first revival since its West End premiere in 2004. Here, in the claustrophobic Charing Cross Theatre, Morgan Large's elegant set design creates an eerie mood, with smart use of sliding screens, and evocative lighting from Rick Fisher creates a gothic chiaroscuro.

Yet the production is pulling in two directions, the horror atmosphere undermined by slushy romance and lyrics that range from sometimes clever to horrifyingly cliché and far from Sondheim's ingenious wordplay. This is the Disney-fied Sweeney Todd, polished to perfection and with comedy too overt to maintain the dark edge.

The lyrics also add little depth to the characters, but this ensemble cast are consistently superb, with brilliant vocals and as much characterisation as the book allows. Carolyn Maitland's Marian is perhaps the most interesting, suppressing her romantic feelings in favour of duty to her sister. But Greg Castiglioni as the eccentric Count Fosco and his showstopping number "You Can Get Away With Anything" is the major highlight.

Streamlined and intimate, this revival is comfortingly safe rather than shockingly thrilling. And with its subtext of victimised women rising up against abusive men, its strangely pertinent this Christmas.


Watch: The Woman In White runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until 10th February.

The Woman In White @ The Charing Cross Theatre

The Woman In White @ The Charing Cross Theatre
Photos: Darren Bell