A tempestuous tale of love, betrayal and greed is how you could describe Thom Southerland's stylish and absorbing new production of the romantic musical The Woman in White (Charing Cross Theatre), freely adapted from Wilkie Collins's Victorian thriller of the same name and with a revived score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by David Zippel.
Walter Hartright's life is changed forever after a chance encounter with a mysterious woman dressed in white, desperate to reveal a chilling secret. When he takes up a position as a drawing master to two young heiresses, the beautiful Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian, he sees in Laura's face an eerie reflection of the forlorn woman in white. Walter falls in love with Laura and this is reciprocated but their feelings for each other are thwarted by her engagement to the sinister and devious Sir Percival Glyde. What is the connection between Laura, Sir Percival and the ghostly woman in white? Can true love prevail?
This is the first London production of the show since its West End premiere in 2004 and, although it has been stripped back and trimmed down to essentials, it is still as packed with plot as you would expect from a 19th-century mystery. Furthermore, although basically a thriller, the show is peppered with some much needed laughs to lighten the tension and each of the female characters has a clearly defined individuality.
The show also has one of Lloyd Weber's most romantic scores with some of the soaring ballads like All For Laura and If I Could Only Dream This World Away, and a particularly memorable comic number in You Can Get Away With Anything.
Thom Southerland's economic staging suits this small theatre, with the claustrophobic stage seen as a place of mystery and fear, aided by Rick Fisher's ultra-moody lighting. Jonathan Lipman's period costumes, together with a set with sliding doors that allows characters to come on and off unnoticed, helps the 19th century really come alive while the gothic chill and thick mists further serve to heighten the atmosphere.
Anna O'Byrne makes a truly radiant and empathetic Laura, while Caroline Maitland makes a strong impression as her half-sister Marian Halcombe and Sophie Reeves is most moving as the eponymous woman in white. Ashley Stillburn, displaying a fine tenor voice, is a charming Walter. Strong support is provided by Chris Peluso as the smooth-talking, wicked Sir Percival Clyde, Greg Castiglioni matching him in the scoundrel stakes as his villainous Italian friend Count Fosco, and Anthony Cable as the sisters' irascible uncle, Mr Fairlie.
Truly a great feast for the eyes and the ears and a perfect Yuletide treat!
The Woman in White
Runs until Saturday 10 February 2018 at Charing Cross Theatre.
Box office: 08444 930 650Last modified: April 6, 2021