It’s hard to sit through a play about a vulnerable woman, preyed upon by a powerful man, and trying to tell her secret, without thinking about recent events.
And in many ways, Charlotte Jones’ adaptation of The Woman In White which opened last night at London’s Charing Cross Theatre, offers a kind of revisionist version of Wilkie Collins’ Victorian melodrama, which is not always kind to its female characters.
Unlike the novel, the brutal capture of Anne Catherick (Sophie Reeves), Laura Fairlie’s ill-fated doppelganger, happens on stage, in front of Laura and her half-sister Marian Halcombe (Carolyn Maitland).
“We are not victims,” Marian assures Anna O’Byrne’s Laura, after Anne has been dragged from sight. “We will right this wrong.”
The Woman in White has always been somewhat overlooked, by Andrew Lloyd Webber-standards.
The original 2003 production had one of the shortest runs associated with the musical impresario, and reviews have always been mixed.
An early mystery thriller of epic proportions, the novel’s protracted plot is a lot to whittle down into a musical.
It is also riddled with ambiguities and unsettling Freudian undertones.
Jones’ play actually does a reasonable job in capturing some of these nuances though the Walter/Laura romance takes up far too much time.
These tensions are out of sync, however, with Lloyd Webber’s musical score, which stays safe and predictable throughout.
The songs do the job but don’t linger in the mind, and things don’t really get going until Fosco’s big number in the second half, which comes too little, too late.
Though it begins a little clichéd, Thom Southerland’s production does a great deal to bring out the play’s darker side, alongside its tragic and comic elements.
Anne Catherick’s capture is executed perfectly, fully encapsulating the spirit of the play.
Amid strong performances across the board, Maitland’s Marian and Greg Castiglioni’s Count Fosco, stand apart from the rest.
With a strong vocal performance, Maitland fully carries off Marian Halcombe’s wit and strength.
Rejecting the novel’s conception of a grossly fat man, Castiglioni’s Fosco is slender and fox-like, with his voracity focused in entirely different directions.
This makes him altogether seedier and more menacing, alongside the humour.
The moment he removes his wig is the production’s funniest moment, and his attempted seduction of Marian that follows is suitably uncomfortable to watch.
Reeves also deserves special praise for her flawless realisation of “living ghost”, The Woman White.
Overall, it skilfully manoeuvres original material which is sometimes limited, and brings out some of the play’s more interesting themes.
The only criticism is that it does not go far enough, and fails to venture outside its comfort zone.
The Woman In White runs at Charing Cross Theatre until February 10.