Updated: Oct 28, 2021
Philip Meeks, based on the original by Washington Irving
Tilted Wig Productions, UK tour
October 26-30, 2021; 2hr 25min
As the (actually rather good, done up like a comic book) programme cheerfully explains, Sleepy Hollow’s headless horseman was introduced in a 40-page short story, of which only five pages referred to the horseman at all.
Little surprise, then, that this overblown and underwritten adaptation lurches around the stage trying to make sense of itself, when the truth is it cannot. It’s a 30-minute peg bashed into a two and a half hour hole.
The six actors, led by TV faces Wendi Peters and Bill Ward, manfully attempt to sew the plot strands together in the face of a script, by Philip Meeks, that seems to confuse itself: it certainly confused me.
Set on Hallowmas – November 1 – the story involves Ichabod Crane, newly-arrived Sleepy Hollow schoolmaster, and his attempts not to get too embroiled in the creepy local traditions and superstitions while maintaining focus on a secret goal of his own. Turns out he can’t stay out of local affairs, despite the warnings, which lead to him find out the true nature of the villagers in this strange, American version of Royston Vasey…
As for the actors, they have a tough job keeping us interested: Wendi Peters plays the type of older character that seems nice but you know she can’t be, while Bill Ward doesn’t get a lot to do as patriarch of the village, except occasionally wear disguises and seem menacing.
Young female lead Rose Quentin deserves better, while Sam Jackson as Ichabod walks around declaiming quite a lot, but to no great effect. Villagers Lewis Cope and Tommy Sim’aan aren’t sure whether they are supposed to be serious or comic characters, at least part of the time: the show simply isn’t very scary.
Much is made of the magic effects (by Filipe J Carvalho), but frankly you hardly notice when they are occurring, though there is some nicely-done back-projection work.
The best things about the show are the soundscape - eerie and creepy - and the set, a nicely-rendered courtyard area with a back wall of solid looking timbers and nicely-rendered side walls. The biggest part of the design budget seems to have gone on dry ice supplies.
The main problem for the script is that too much is packed in, and most of it is superfluous, leaving the audience wondering just what they are supposed to hang on to.
Greater clarity would work wonders, for the legend isn’t really famous anywhere except in America, and only then because of TV and cinema adaptations. Meeks seems to assume a lot of prior knowledge on the part of his audiences.
Ticket info here