The Chipstead Players are back with an ambitious adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ 1859 novel, The Woman in White.
It tells the story of the dashing Walter Hartright, (David Hall in his Courtyard debut). Who takes up the position of drawing master to Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian. But he is troubled by the memory of a young woman dressed in white whom he encountered shortly before arriving. Who is she? Thereby hangs an elaborate tale of deception, greed, control and mistaken identity.
Chipstead’s staging is always superb and The Woman in White is no exception. The curtain opens, revealing an authentic Victorian Drawing Room, with Housekeeper Mrs Vesey (Anne Gregory providing much of the comedy) bustling around looking after the just-arrived Walter.
The main protagonists are introduced. Marian – played with focused intensity by Celeste Narywonczy. She provides enough intrigue in the opening scenes, to whet the audience’s imagination as to her half-sister’s forthcoming nuptials to Sir Percival Glyde. The disinterested hypochondriac Sir Frederick Fairlie, the arch-enabler of both his nieces’ misfortunes. Praise here to Robert Owen who never tipped into parody. And to Keith Miller as his long-suffering butler, who with a mere arch of an eyebrow portrays contempt and loathing. The outstanding Colin Edgerton’s world-weary and honourable Mr Gilmoure, yet another highlight.
And of course Laura Fairlie, vulnerable and kindly, with whom Walter Hartright falls deeply in love. Catherine Hill is superb portraying both Laura and the tragic Anne Catherick, aka The Woman in White.
The one set staging, aided by atmospheric, moody lighting is a tonic. Together, they aid to the sense of creeping unease, brought about by the wicked Sir Percival Glyde, (Paul Dineen), Laura’s fiancée. He is only bettered in the villainous stakes by Robin Clifford’s Count Fosco – one of Victorian fictions great scoundrels.
It doesn’t take long for the audience to see his Machiavellian scheming or the creepy watchfulness of his wife (Elayne Teague).
The sense of claustrophobia builds as the big conspiracy slowly reveals itself. It is a terrific mystery and once again the simple staging helps build suspense for the audience who are willing that the love story between Laura and Walter prevails and for the Woman in White’s secret to finally be revealed.
This adaptation is densely dialogued. The cast did well to be almost word-perfect and some final scenes do appear slightly rushed. Nothing to do with the direction but rather the perils of adapting a novel of this magnitude for stage.
The themes of control, women’s lack of power and good old-fashioned greed are still relevant in the enlightened 21st century. Its certainly a thought-provoking piece of theatre for a Monday night audience.
Hats off to all involved. A great Victorian novel, a superb adaptation.
The Woman in White is showing at the Courtyard Theatre until Saturday 28th. Click here for tickets.