Review: The Wicker Husband, Watermill Theatre

Gorgeous new folk musical The Wicker Husband is perfectly situated at the Watermill Theatre and simply must be given more opportunity to soar post-crisis

“Once upon a withy on the edge of a deep damp swamp, nestled in the arms of a winding river, stood a pretty little town…”

Snuck in under the radar for this one as I’ve been looking forward to The Wicker Husband for a long time. Four years in fact, since I first heard a snippet of the score but as ever in the world of writing a new musical, the show has been in development for more than twice that time. Further upping my anticipation was the success of composer/lyricist Darren Clark’s last major project The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which was only my very favourite show of last year.

Together with book-writer Rhys Jennings, their adaptation of a short story by Ursula Wills-Jones has a bewitching quality that is eerily compelling and in the tradition of all the best fairy tales, has no problem in going very dark. Along with my mortal fear of eerily humanoid puppets, it makes for a much more chilling night at the theatre (for me, at least) but one which is ultimately beautifully human too, as Charlotte Westenra’s production reminds us why fables have endured for so long.

In a world where her fellow villagers shun her and call her Ugly Girl, the discovery of a mysterious Old Basketmaker who can weave her a husband into existence is life-changing for Laura Johnson’s protagonist. But people being people twists the situation as their jealousies rise to the surface. The wicker husband himself (designed by Finn Caldwell) is expertly manipulated by Elon Morris and Scarlet Wilderink and so well-voiced by Yazdan Qafouri that he even got my sympathies as a much-maligned leading man.

Musically, the show also works wonders, delving deep into British folk tradition and weaving an entirely hypnotic spell. The onstage band of MD Pat Moran and Jon Whitten are intermittently joined by members of the highly talented actor-muso cast to drive through the swirls and eddies of a score that you just want to hear again the minute it stops. And you have to hope that the opportunity to get thee a husband that will present itself sooner rather than later.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Johan Persson
The Wicker Husband is currently booking at the Watermill Theatre until 4th April

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