As I write this it is March 16. It will always be a significant day in the theatre world. In 2020 when the theatres were forced to close, The Watermill Theatre was hosting its opening night of The Wicker Husband. This was its first and last thanks to Covid, but two years on it is back, and I am very happy about that fact.
The Watermill never fails to impress. From their creative flair and in-depth development, each production is clearly a carefully handcrafted piece of work. The level of care from the production company, cast, crew and everyone associated with it is always obvious. But this show is on another level.
My plus one and I are in agreement, this show is the best production we have ever seen at The Watermill. If somebody doesn’t snap this up and get it to the West End then the world has gone mad…
From the opening number of Once Upon a Withy which has a familiar Come From Away style gusto and catchy tune, I was totally encapsulated. The original short story by Ursula Wills is ingenious and has the perfect balance of imaginative and unpredictable yet believable and grounded. Teamed with the book by Rhys Jennings and you’ve got a powerful story full of soul, morals and emotion. It doesn’t shy away from trickier themes, which give the actors moments to flourish, while beautifully balancing the dark with the light.
The fullness of the folky music, the magic of the puppetry and the 12 strong cast are all enchanting. The central cast is made up of Gemma Sutton with her feisty and raw performance as the Ugly Girl, the brilliant, brooding and booming Old Basket Maker played by Julian Forsyth and the captivating George Maguire who is the Wicker Husband’s voice and also one of three people to bring the puppet to life.
The clever spacing and choreography meant even with an 8-foot wicker puppet on the small stage nothing ever felt cramped. Different locations such as the swamp, river or villagers' shops were clearly indicated and I found myself easily identifying places just by a small sound effect or prop.
The only tiny problem with this show is that anything happening lower on the stage, smaller puppets, actors sitting down etc, is lost on most of the stalls due to the minimal rake. This is something that could be easily fixed if this was to transfer or tour…please?
I left the theatre feeling like I had not only seen but been part of something really special. This show needs to live on and be seen by more people, it has real heart.