The Woman in White at Charing Cross Theatre
Audiences love a good old-fashioned mystery. Victorian novel The Woman in White first captivated readers with its tale of secrets and betrayal, and was later adapted into a short-lived musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Following a 13-year hibernation, there’s a BBC drama in the works and a revival of Webber’s show (directed by Thom Southerland) is now running at Charing Cross Theatre. This particular stage is relatively small, but it works alongside the minimalistic set, and the former Victorian music hall becomes a Gothic chamber filled with mystery.
The set revolves around sliding doors, opening up to the lives of half-sisters Marian and Laura, but also cleverly portraying the mystery of the Woman in White, Anne, as it allows her to suddenly appear and disappear in a cloud of smoke. Smoke, light and shadow play a large part in modestly creating an atmosphere of suspense and intrigue too.
When the titular cloaked figure first appears, the initial instinct is one of horror as she begs for somebody to listen to her secret. The character concerned is drawing teacher Walter Hartright, who soon comes to teach Marian and Laura and falls swiftly in love with the latter. All the while, they are haunted by the unexplained mysteries of Anne who was supposedly locked away by Sir Percival Glyde, who himself just so happens to be engaged to Laura. It’s a juicy plot that thickens, but it is unfortunately accompanied by a noticeably slow pace; the length doesn’t necessarily add stirring nor spine-tingling weight. For example, the love story is unconvincing and serves the narrative on a more functional cliched basis, with the emotional level fleeting and therefore unable to carry the weight of the deeper plot. Perhaps the finger can be pointed at the original novel, which is so laden with melodic dialogue that the poignant musical numbers seldom get a chance to shine.
Despite this, the songs are performed impeccably by possibly the most exquisite collection of voices in the West End right now. There were whispers of illness, but it certainly didn’t show. Carolyn Maitland as Marian is a revelation, particularly stunning in All For Laura, whilst Greg Castiglioni also steals the spotlight for a refreshingly comical turn as flamboyant Count Fosco. There are blissful harmonies, all accompanied by a great orchestra, reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera.
Themes of greed and male oppression come through powerfully in this adaptation, and there are heartbreaking moments of helplessness for all three female protagonists. It’s a good musical that is slightly let down by its source material but is worth seeing for the tremendous vocal performances alone.
Photos: Darren Bell
The Woman in White is at Charing Cross Theatre from 20th November 2017 until 10th February 2018. Book your tickets here.