We all know I love a theatre trip around these parts, and one of my 2018 goals is to see 24 shows over the year. Well your girl is getting on top of this target early because I’d seen 2 before the first week of the year was over. On Saturday I had one of my classic two show days, and my first was a visit to Charing Cross Theatre to see The Woman In White.
One of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lesser known works, The Woman In White is based on the 1859 mystery novel of the same name by Wilkie Collins. The Woman In White tells the tale of Walter Hartright (Ashley Stillburn), a drawing teacher who is desperate to learn the secret of a woman he runs into at a train station. Anne Catherick (Sophie Reeves) is in distress, and Walter needs to find out why.
Half-sisters Marian Halcombe (Carolyn Maitland) and Laura Fairlie (Anna O’Byrne) are close, even when it comes to their choice in men. Both falling in love with Walter, until Marian becomes jealous. Instead of letting her sister have the man she loves, she reveals Laura’s secret. She’s promised to another man, Sir Percival Glyde (Chris Peluso). Heartbroken, Walter returns to London and Laura marries the man she doesn’t love. But the woman at the station knows Glyde, and he’s got a secret to hide. And Glyde can only keep this secret with the aid of Count Fosco (Greg Castiglioni), an Italian man with plans of his own.
I’m going to hold my hands up and say that I can be 97% sure this won’t be appearing in a top 5 of 2018 theatre moments post (similar to my 2017 post, unless everything else I come across this year is a sloppy mess), but I haven’t seen any ‘typical’ ALW work. I’m a big fan of his music when complimented by Tim Rice’s lyrics, and not much else. He’s a great, but he’s not my favourite composer on the West End scene.
In The Woman In White, ALW borrows from himself, and if I stopped paying attention for thirty seconds or closed my eyes for a moment, I would swear I was at Her Majesty’s Theatre watching The Phantom Of The Opera. Look, there’s a reason this is one of ALW’s shortest running works with 19 months in the West End and 3 months on Broadway during its original run. I’m not surprised this passed me by in 2004 (other than the fact I was only 10). Although I would’ve loved to have see Maria Friedman and Michael Crawford during its staging at The Palace Theatre, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out by not experiencing that.
I can also hold my hands up and say I wasn’t even looking at tickets to The Woman In White until my mum told me that someone I went to school with was in the orchestra. Hey, it would’ve been rude not to see him; shout out to the bassist, Peter Hunt!
Overall, I was highly impressed with the vocal skills of the majority of the cast although many of the ensemble members had voices missing something. I do however feel incredibly blessed to have seen O’Byrne perform in the flesh. Her soprano is something of beauty and knowing her as Christine Daae in both The Phantom Of The Opera and Love Never Dies, it’s no wonder she was cast as Laura. She has the voice that many ALW compositions require.
However, what the production was lacking was delivering a production leading to the audience having well rounded opinions on the characters. Most were very two dimensional, and very few feelings (be them positive or negative) could be established by the audience. The closest I came to emotion was listening to the spine tingling harmonies created by the trio of Maitland, O’Byrne and Stillburn, and at times I definitely felt that Reeve’s pain as Anne Catherick was real.
A trip to The Woman In White will be worth it for the die-hard ALW fans, but may disinterest those without a passion for the smaller shows. This isn’t a flashy production, and don’t expect any dance breaks. The orchestration, whilst stunning, is repetitive, but not in a way that forces you to walk out humming the tunes. Yes, there’s is some comedy to keep the audience engaged, but not enough for the occasional theatre-goer to cling onto.
Yes, Castiglioni’s rendition of You Can Get Away With Anything is vocally astounding and has some of the best comical timing in recent years, but it isn’t worth paying upwards of £20 per seat for that alone. Especially with the trains from Charing Cross Station clattering overhead. The rumbling worked okay in Yank! due to the war setting, but it took away the minimal atmosphere the show created. I’m just relieved that 40 minutes were shaved off the original production or I may have had to close my eyes for a few moments.
The Woman In White wasn’t the thriller I was hoping it to be; I think I’ll save that for my giant pile of books by the side of my bed. This definitely sounds like a negative review, but I can tell you I enjoyed it. It wasn’t my usual choice of show which took me time to get used to. It took more work than I would’ve liked to work out what was going on, but if you’re a fan of The Phantom Of The Opera (or more operatic musicals) then I’d give this a go. If you want to walk out feeling like you’ve had a song and dance then seriously don’t even think about buying a ticket.
The Woman In White is playing at the Charing Cross Theatre until 12th February and tickets are available here.