24th March 2022
By Shaun Tossell
The new folk musical The Wicker Husband makes its return to The Watermill Theatre, after its previous run was unfortunately cut short due to the pandemic back in 2020.
Now the show is back for another chance to enchant audiences, does it succeed? Read on…
The Wicker Husband is an adaptation of an original short story from Ursula Wills and the first collaboration from writer Rhys Jennings and composer Darren Clark (whose previous work includes the critically acclaimed musical The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).
The Wicker Husband tells the story of the “so-called ‘Ugly Girl’, who is ostracised by the shallow townsfolk because she doesn’t fit in. She becomes the envy of her neighbours when the mysterious Old Basketmaker makes her a strong and loving husband woven from living wicker. As bitter rivalry and jealousy threaten to tear the community apart, the townsfolk embark on a cruel and destructive plan. Will the Ugly Girl’s happiness be ruined forever?”
Gemma Sutton leads the show as ‘Ugly Girl’, delivering a beautiful performance, full of yearning, with an air of melancholy about her. Her tender interactions with the Wicker Husband help bring the puppetry to life.
George Maguire gives the Wicker Husband his soul, aided magnificently by puppeteers Nisha Anil and Sebastian Charles, imbuing the character with a childlike naivete. You almost forget you’re watching a puppet as the character develops throughout the show.
Standouts include Julian Forsyth as the gruff Old Basketmaker and Davina Moon as the Tailor’s Wife, who artfully portrays a tragic and complex character.
They are joined by a talented actor/muso ensemble who are responsible for much of the cheeky humour peppered throughout the show. The show features energetic choreography from Steven Harris and it is all brought together with fantastic direction from Charlotte Westenra, who makes full use of the intimate theatre.
The Wicker Husband features some absolutely stunning puppetry design and direction by Finn Caldwell. The wicker puppets are otherworldly, full of charm and character, and the craftsmanship involved is truly exquisite.
The show features some beautiful design work by Anna Kelsey, with the deceptively simple set utilizing every inch of the Watermill stage. The gorgeous lighting design by Hartley T A Kemp added to the fairytale quality of the piece.
The book by Rhys Jennings is funny and heartfelt, giving real depth to the characters on display. What feels like a simple fable at first, surprises you with an emotionally complex tale of loneliness, love and unthinkable loss. Special mention of the deliciously cheeky innuendos littered throughout, which I enjoyed immensely.
The songs by Darren Clark are unsurprisingly fantastic, ranging from catchy folk numbers with thumping rhythmic beats to wonderfully epic ballads full of emotion. They are wonderfully brought to life by the multi-talented cast and band.
The Wicker Husband is a gorgeous new musical which has an ethereal magic to it, that is hard to describe. It’s a beautiful tale, full of wonder and imagination. This special show deserves a future life, I hope we see it return very soon!
The Wicker Husband is playing The Windmill Theatre until 26th March 2022.
Tickets & more info – https://www.watermill.org.uk/wicker_husband
Photo credit – Helen Maybanks