Woman In White

  • Date:
    September 1, 2004

    (Please note, this is a review of the London Production of 'The Woman In White'. This production is to be re-created on Broadway in the fall of 2005.)

    Click here for more details of the Broadway production.

    In �The Woman In White� Andrew Lloyd Webber has returned to a gothic theme: unrequited love; tyrannical men threatening virtuous women, and a secret that has the power to destroy some while redeeming others.

    The inspiration for the musical comes from Wilkie Collins novel of the same name, a Victorian bestseller when originally published in 1860 and it has remained in print ever since. The story, adapted by Charlotte Jones, tells of two half sisters, Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe, who are the victims of a sinister plot to deprive them of their wealth by Sir Percival Glyde. However, the mysterious ghost-like woman in white Anne Catherick seeks to aid the two sisters by revealing her terrible secret.

    Trevor Nunn�s production is lavish and spectacular, as soon as the show begins you have little doubt that you are in safe hands and that whatever faults the show may have, boring and insipid will not be amongst them.

    William Dudley�s set design (or should I say video design) is magnificent; the opening projection of a foggy station on which the woman in white first makes her ghostly appearance is spine tingling. Similarly the projections whisk us from rail station, to manor house, to open fields and the streets of London in a far more realistic manner than any physical set design could possible achieve. However, the video projection also has drawbacks. At times the whole stage appears to be moving as we glide along dales and swing round corners which means the actors are often walking far slower than the scenery moves which creates some very strange perspectives, however one can be tolerant as the sheer beauty of the projections amply compensate.

    Andrew Lloyd Webber has written a romantic score full of harmonious melodies, especially the song �I Believe My Heart�, which is as rich and varied as any of the scores from �Phantom�. The music is typical Andrew Lloyd Webber and so does have echoes and refrains from previous compositions, but it is still one of his most enchanting scores. My only gripe is that the show contains few ensemble pieces, which sadly diminishes the imposing ambience we have come to expect of a blockbuster musical.

    Maria Friedman is indisputably the star of the show, not only does her powerful voice easily carry above the sound of the orchestra, but she is one of the few musical stars whose voice is able to blast out a big number and yet still express the intensity of the words being sung. Her character, the heroine �Marian Halcombe� - the self-sacrificing older sister of Laura, could so easily be played steeped in sentimentality, but Friedman imbrues her with fortitude.

    Angela Christian as �Anne Catherick� and Jill Paice as �Laura Fairlie� also shine. They each have strong singing voices and bring a sense of urgency to their characters that heighten the intensity of the plot as it reaches its climax with the revealing of Anne Catherick�s secret.

    Michael Crawford as Count Fosco, dressed in a fat suit and wearing facial prosthetics is totally unrecognisable and though he produces some lighter moments of humour, especially with the song �You Can Get Away With Anything�, the character of Count Fosco is too stylised to warrant such an august performer as Michael Crawford, and his talents are wasted in the role.

    Even through there are some flaws to the story, which I shall not mention here in order to avoid giving away the plot, and even though at times David Zippel�s lyrics sound banal, this production still works. The Woman in White may not be as good as some of Andrew Lloyd Webber�s earlier musicals, nevertheless it is still one of the most exciting dramatic new musicals to open in the West End in recent years.

    (Alan Bird)
    Editor of www.newyorktheatreguide.com

    Production photos by Manuel Harlan
    Michael Crawford (Count Fosco) / Maria Friedman (Marian Halcombe)

    This review of the London production is provided curtesy of our sister site www.londontheatre.co.uk