The Woman in White

Date 12th October 2023
Society Winton Players
Venue Festival Hall, Petersfield
Type of Production Play
Director Laura Sheppard
Written By Constance Cox based on the novel by Wilkie Collins

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Author: Mark Donalds

The Woman in White was adapted from Wilkie Collins’ novel by Constance Cox, who I had long considered a doyen of Victorian melodrama but was surprised to find out was also responsible for a landmark adaptation of Oliver Twist in 1962 and for bringing the Forsyte Saga to BBC television. So, we could relax in the knowledge that the script would be sound, and thanks to Laura Sheppard’s thoughtful direction, we were in for a jolly good evening’s entertainment.

The curtains opened to a splendid set featuring the drawing room of Limmeridge Hall – huge credit, as always, to the talented Bodgers – well laid out with props and furniture appropriate to the time (thanks to Sarah Whitaker, Lyn Pease and Kieran Bell). Lighting (Max Burrage) was used to good effect in creating atmosphere, as were the various sound effects (Simon Auty and Janet Auty) and the classical music excerpts that were used to highlight significant moments of drama. Costumes were well chosen (take a bow Penny Young and Jane Blower) and together with the wigs (Jay Elsey) created a great picture. I note from the Director’s message in the programme that the cast had taken great care to learn how to move correctly with their Victorian attire and this definitely added to the look.

The one set took as through the whole play with adjustments made swiftly by SM Alan Bristow and his efficient crew between scenes. The whole play flowed well with a good pace, despite the amount of dialogue needed to introduce the characters and get the story going.

Laura Sheppard has chosen a strong cast of very able actors who had all developed their characters nicely. Paula Currie made housekeeper Mrs Vesey a very kindly soul, albeit rather too easily taken in by Count Fosco. Nikolai Gibbins was every inch the naïve young artist Walter Hartright, who falls in love and is determined to do the right thing to save Laura. Phill Humphries was perfect as the irascible hypochondriac Frederick Fairlie, taking him almost, but not quite, into the realms of caricature. Simon Stanley was wonderfully evil as the despicable Sir Percival Glyde, giving us hints of what was to come even before the marriage. Daisy Bedford as Laura Fairlie and Karla Welch as her step-sister and devoted friend Marion worked well together and you really felt they were lifelong friends, with Daisy doubling up as her lookalike, Anne Catherick but making the character significantly different. Daisy made Laura sufficiently sympathetic that we wanted her to escape the situation rather than thinking “Well, it’s your own fault you’re in this mess!”

Steve Sheppard gave a solid performance as the dependable solicitor Mr Gilmore and Roland Goodbody was spot on with his portrayal of the two-faced Count Fosco. Anne Wheeldon played the almost silent Countess Fosco but was allowed to show considerable spirit doubling up as Mrs Catherick. Em Sefton-Smith must be congratulated for a splendid portrayal of Fairlie’s long-suffering servant Louis. It might have been a small role, but you made every nuanced moment on stage count.

Winton Players, this was an excellent production of a story I didn’t previously know. The direction and acting really drew us in and made us want to know how it all turned out. Thank you for a most enjoyable evening.