The Charing Cross Theatre has been home to a number of musicals in recent years, but The Woman In White marks the first time a show by Andrew Lloyd Webber has performed there. Directed by Thom Southerland, The Woman In White takes place in the 19th century around Cumberland, Hampshire and London.
The show begins with Walter Hartwright (Ashley Stilburn), a struggling artist from London who has secured work as an art tutor at Limmeridge House. While making a late night journey, he’s met by a ‘woman in white’ who is desperate to tell him a secret. Later, at Limmeridge House, Hartwright meets Marian Halcombe (Carolyn Maitland) and her younger half-sister Laura Fairlie (Anna O’Byrne). While Laura reciprocates Walter’s feelings for her, she is however engaged to Sir Percival Glyde (Chris Peluso) – a match made by her late father who wanted her to marry into another affluent family. The irony is that Glyde only wants to marry Laura so that he can use the money she’s inherited to pay his debts. Arranged marriages for financial gain – a world away from the values of today’s world…
While the early part of the show focuses on Laura and the mystery of the woman in white, it’s soon apparent that the emotional centre of the tale actually lies with Marian. She only wants the best for her sister, but Marian is emotionally conflicted as she also has feelings for Walter. To add salt to the wound, Walter only has eyes for Laura. Maitland distinguishes herself as Marian – conveying the character’s sense of duty, guilt and burgeoning desire. Meanwhile, Sir Percival Glyde’s trusted companion, Count Fosco (Greg Castiglioni) stands out in the show by virtue of his unapologetic romantic nature and Castiglioni’s ability to effortlessly sustain notes over long periods.
As for the staging of the show, Morgan Large’s fluid set design and Rick Fisher’s lighting creates distinct locales of high standard with a minimum of time expended.
While The Woman in White is one of Lloyd Webber’s more recent efforts and can broadly be classifed with Aspects Of Love and Phantom Of The Opera, it’s quasi-Gothic tropes are complementary to its West End neighbour, The Woman In Black. However, the show’s true relevance lies with its themes to 2017, a year where women in greater numbers have been speaking out against oppression and assault – and for many the first time they’ve actually been believed.
© Michael Davis 2017
The Woman In White runs at Charing Cross Theatre until 10th February 2018.