Monday 27 August 2018

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - Review

The Other Palace Theatre, London


Music and Lyrics by Eamonn O’Dwyer
Book by Helen Watts
Directed by Alex Sutton

Members of the company of NYMT's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Based on the short horror story by Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is perhaps best known for Tim Burton’s blockbuster movie starring Johnny Depp. Now it’s been brought to life in a new musical by Helen Watts and Eamonn O’Dwyer, commissioned by the National Youth Music Theatre and performed at the Other Palace Theatre as part of the company’s summer residency.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow tells the tale of a 19th century New England town, where farming is the way of life and residents believe not only in God but in local superstitions, particularly the legendary tale of the Headless Horseman said to patrol the nearby woods looking for his next victim. Their lives are disrupted by the arrival of new schoolteacher Ichabod Crane (George Renshaw) from Connecticut, a progressive man who believes in science rather than religion and encourages his students to question the world around them. His new way of thinking inspires local farmers to fight to buy their own land, and also captures the attention of Katrina Van Fleet (Hayley Canham), the daughter of evil, greedy land owner Baltus Van Fleet and a woman betrothed to Brom Van Brunt, leading to disastrous consequences. 

Under Alex Sutton’s direction this all makes for a compelling and eerie tale, frightening at times. At odd moments the story drags, particularly in the first act. After the interval, the production really comes alive with performances, lighting, music and scenery combining to produce a gripping, atmospheric and spine-tingling piece of theatre. 

Very much an ensemble piece, it is hard to believe that this talented cast only had two weeks of rehearsal time given such polished performances. George Renshaw and Hayley Canham are believable and endearing as the star-crossed lovers and really have the audience rooting for them, while Joe Usher puts in a strong, well-rounded performance as Brom. Special mention must also go to Alfie Richards’ Baltus Van Fleet and also Jade Oswald, who as the troubled Sabine threatens to steal the show with her exquisite, haunting voice. 

The music by Eamonn O’Dwyer, skilfully played by musicians from the NYMT, is key to adding to the atmosphere of this production, from haunting songs such as Strange Child to catchier, lighter numbers like The Tale of the Drunkard Jack, a particular highlight showcasing both the company’s musical talents and Rebecca Brower’s clever design. Likewise Christopher Nairne’s lighting design builds tension perfectly, adding to the creepiness of the tale. 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a strong production all round, theatre at its best, and this new musical is well written, brilliantly creepy and highlights the talents of the NYMT and the production team, who are all sure to have bright futures ahead of them.

Reviewed by Kirsty Herrington
Photo credit: Rob Youngson

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