THE WOMAN IN WHITE
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton. Saturday 23rd July, 2011
Being all ignorant and shiz, I arrived at the theatre never having read the Victorian novel by Wilkie Collins. I knew it existed and I know that Andrew Lloyd Webber made a musical based on it. Something involving Michael Crawford in a fat suit and some pet white mice, I seem to recall.
Turns out, in this instance, ignorance, if not bliss, was preferable. This stage adaptation is all about the plot, plot, plot, plot, plot so if you know what’s coming, there’s not much else to keep you interested. Characterisations are skin deep – some are a little flat – and here I think the producers missed a trick. They should have cranked up the melodrama, exaggerated the acting style to recapture the barnstorming, scenery-chewing declamatory stomping and posturing of the days before naturalism. It would have been weird at first but we would have attuned to it before long, and the production could have been lifted from a passable piece of storytelling to an energetic and more overtly theatrical event.
The sensational plot would bear a more outré presentation. Its convoluted machinations, comings and goings and carryings-on bear all the hallmarks of Victorian melodrama, an early forerunner to the soap operas of today. The long-suffering heroine is blonde. The bad guy is dark with facial hair – he was played by Peter Amory, formerly Chris Tate off of Emmerdale Farm. There were moments when I thought he was really going to snarl his way through half the furniture, but it never happened. Everyone was playing it safe. A previous incarnation of The Doctor, the mighty Colin Baker, only really got to grips with Count Fosco when his malevolence comes to the fore in the third act. Yes, that’s right, there were three acts. Someone should have told those members of the audience who didn’t buy a programme. At the end of Act Two some of them left. The woman next to me turned to me and said, “That was a bit different.” Perhaps inured to artsy-fartsy, open-ended resolutions, these people thought that genuinely was the end. If they knew their Victorian melodrama they would know there was more to come. Virtue must win out and the blonde people must triumph.
I would have directed it differently is the sum of what I’m saying.