The Woman in White
Wilkie Collins, adapted by Nicola Boyce
Ian Dickens Productions
If there really is a market for a stage adaptation of this classic Victorian novel, performed in a style that would have better suited its age, then this is the perfect product.
At three hours in length it becomes much less of the page-turner for which the original thrilling detective story was famed, than a hidebound and moribund melodrama, delivered at a woeful pace.
Nicola Boyce’s cumbersome adaptation, and Ian Dickens’s over-respectful direction, create a kind of Victorian doll’s house of a production, with too many layered performances and not enough perspective to the story.
Certainly anyone expecting any monochromatic likeness to The Woman in Black—a genuinely terrifying piece of theatre—will have felt left in the shade.
It’s not the original author’s fault. He had actually constructed something of a story ahead of its time, what with identity theft, pre-nuptial agreements, even a spot of Victorian forensic sleuthing.
Like his original characters each of the cast here gets their moment in the spotlight, literally, as a witness to the story of marital skulduggery. Any real action is often squandered in these narrated moments.
The first two acts obey all the ancient rules of an elaborate drawing room drama, wherein no character speaks unless it is to unburden more of the plot’s exposition. In complete contrast the final act’s denouement relies on a dozen dizzying scene changes set against much more abstract backdrops.
A more holistic and darkly-lit stage design throughout could have created the vitally necessary sense of threat and claustrophobia.
Colin Baker’s first entrance, after 90 minutes, reveals the usually oily Count Fosco character as something more of a camp comedy Italian, who quickly dispenses with any accent. At least Peter Amory’s twitching Sir Percival Glyde leaves no doubt about his villainous intent—short of actually twisting his moustache and tying his new young wife to the train tracks.
The rest of the dozen-strong cast give of their best, but are really not helped when the odd clap of thunder, or intermittent howling gale, is felt to be the best way of suggesting growing menace.
Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, no less, saw the musical possibilities of the story, even if audiences were not persuaded, but in the hands of a nimble theatre company like Kneehigh, for instance, you feel that someone could yet put some real colour back into the cheeks of the Woman in White.
Reviewer: David Upton