The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Jonathan Clarkson from the short story by Washington Irving
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
(2010)

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow production photo

The team that created the wonderfully funny She Stoops to Conquer at the Brockley Jack earlier in the year is presenting a spine tingler for the festive season.

Returning to the original source of the story, the plot concerns the inhabitants of a small Dutch settlement and more particularly the outsider school teacher, Ichabod Crane, who competes for the hand of eligible Katrina with local Abraham Van Brunt, a ne'er do well who has taken the name of Brom Bones.

Ichabod Crane is pompously self–important and his credulous nature makes him vulnerable to the folklore and ghostly tales of the superstitious settlers. In order to supplement his meagre teacher's salary Crane lodges for a week at a time with each family in the small hamlet. As suits a community with a strong storytelling tradition, he entertains his hosts reading spooky stories from a book but each household has a story of its own, none more chilling than that of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.

Gullible Crane imagines he hears the galloping horse of the ghostly headless soldier searching each night for his missing head and until one fateful evening when Crane has to face up to ruffian Brom Bones, the teacher avoids being in Sleepy Hollow after dark. Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum, DUM!

That is enough of the plot except to say that woven amongst the stories there is also commentary about the hierarchy of wealth and education within the community with the subplot of a reluctant servant girl who would like to better herself. Across the handful of tales there are various morals or lessons which help to build up the tension but make the structure episodic and a little predictable. But it's not all galloping ghosts and the tragic tale of Dead Elvira enhances the feel– good ending of the young lovers.

For each story to be acted out most of the cast have to at least double or triple roles and most characters are seen only fleetingly. There are a few that carry the core of the plot through and between the storytelling and of these Hannah Wood's performance as Zanda the servant girl who would like to be educated, Mrs Van Ripper played by Kirsty Cox and Rachel Richardson's Katrina stand out.

Karl Swinyard's simple and very mobile set creates cramped wooded nooks and open spaces for dramatic lighting effects (lighting design by Barra Collins/lighting operator William Ingham), and effective sound design from Joe Churchman also provides disquiet.

How scary you find the play will depend a lot on your constitution. It is more chilling than terrifying so even scaredy cats could brave the bad weather and go down to Sleepy Hollow

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" runs until 8 January 2011
Suitable for brave ten year olds – running time one hour and forty five minutes with one interval

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti