We probably all know the outline of the story told in Wilkie Collins’ novel, first published in cliff-hanger weekly parts in 1859-60, The Woman in White. Nicola Boyce’s stage adaptation keeps many elements of the eye-witness accounts of the original, dividing her dramatisation into 35 short scenes across three acts – which makes for a longish evening.
The production by Ian Dickens seems to hover uneasily between the naturalistic and the symbolic, certainly as far as the settings and the costumes are concerned. It makes for some scene-shifting longeurs, especially in the last act, and detracts from the tension which the actors do their best to maintain.
Both the lead women do splendidly, with Lucy Cudden’s Marian suitably fiery as well as intelligent – a New Woman in the making, though I’m not sure that either Collins or his initial publisher Charles Dickens really approved of or appreciated her character. Isla Carter flits effectively between sad Anne Catherick and the nominal heroine, Laura Fairlie.
With the exception of Colin Baker’s much too cuddly Count Fosco and Peter Amory’s histrionic Sir Percival, the male characters are somewhat low-key. Thomas Brownlee tries hard to make Walter Hartright into something more than a pasteboard hero and Neil Stacey creates a lawyer in Gilmore somewhat more avuncular than Glyn Grain’s Mr Fairlie.
Boyce’s adaptation uses a great deal of the novel’s actual dialogue, and the words come over with conviction. It’s just a pity that elements of the production seem to deliberately negate the theatrical reality of what the performers are seeking to convey to their audience.