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Lloyd Webber out of tune with The Woman in White



Review by David Munro

WHATEVER made Andrew Lloyd Webber attempt the musicalisation of Wilkie Collins The Woman in White, the Lord only knows.

It certainly wasn’t the intricate plot lines of the original novel as these are all but discarded by Charlotte Jones’s clumsy and inept libretto, which contains, among other infelicities, the sight of a well- brought-up Victorian girl running unescorted through the streets of London and reduces the sinister Count Fosco to a ludicrous buffoon.

Admittedly, these plot mishaps are partially redeemed by the talents of Maria Friedman and Michael Crawford, but nonetheless the tension and drama of the original work are totally lacking.

All the characters speak, well actually sing, like those from some penny dreadful Victorian barnstormer and the plot denouement, that the villain’s deadly secret is that he murdered his paramour’s illegitimate baby, is frankly risible.

There are none of the great songs and arias which we have come to expect from Lloyd Webber, most of the dialogue is sung, and when a number does come along, it is fairly pedestrian and unmemorable.

I have enjoyed David Zippel’s lyrics in the past, but here he has succumbed to the general drabness of Miss Jones’s libretto and lost his sparkle.

All the action, such as it is, takes place before cycloramas on which are projected scenes of buildings, interiors, exteriors or whatever, which are filmed in a manner to give the impression that you are moving with the cast into whatever situation may happen next. Clever the first time, but boring and wearisome for a whole evening.

As I have said, Michael Crawford does his best with what Miss Jones has left him of the part of Count Fosco. He has a Music Hall song in the second act which is quite out of character, but stands out like an oasis in the musical desert of the show.

Maria Friedman does what she can with the part of Marion, the sister of the heroine, a part which bears no relation to that in the book, or to real life. She does, however, manage to convince one that what she is called upon to do is not as ludicrous as it seems and she sings divinely to boot.

As the young lovers, Walter Hartright and Laura Fairlie, Martin Crewes and Jill Paice sing adequately and only occasionally look as though they wish they were in another Lloyd Webber musical when the music reminds them, and us, he has done far, far better things than this.

Angela Christian, as the eponymous woman in white, does her best with a part which is mainly sung in the upper register and largely inaudible by running wildly on and off the stage as though she had forgotten what she was meant to be doing which, in the context of the script she is called upon to perform, seems highly likely.

The direction of Trevor Nunn indicates that he must have spent a fruitful few years in the world of Pollock’s Theatre, as one can almost see the wooden sticks which move and motivate the characters.

A most lamentable production and if I may make a suggestion, it is that perhaps Lord Lloyd Webber might consider making a musical out of the Book of Job, it couldn’t be more dismal than the Woman in White.

The Woman in White, freely adapted from the novel by Wilkie Collins, by Charlotte Jones. Lyrics by David Zippel Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Director, Trevor Nunn; Production and Video design, William Dudley; Lighting, Paul Pyant; Sound, Mick Pottee; Fight Director, Malcolm Ranson; Conductor, Stephen Brooker.
CAST: Maria Friedman; Michael Crawford; Martin Crewes; Angela Christian; Edward Petheridge; Jill Paice; Oliver Darley; Vincent Pirillo; Nicky Adams; Eoin Cannon; Gregory Clarke; Elinor Collett; Christine Connah; Adrian der Gregorian; Susie Fenwick; Helen George; Mark Goldthorp; John Griffiths; Andrew Keelan; Paul Kemble; Joanna Kirkland; Jo Napthine; Yvette Robinson; James Spilling; Steve Varnom; Sophie Catherside; Leah-Verity White; Sydney White.
Presented by Sonia Friedman Productions Ltd. And The Really Useful Theatre Company Ltd.
Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1.
Evenings: 7.30pm
Matinees Wed & Sat: 2.30pm
Box Office: 0870 890 0142.

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