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Watermill world premiere

A great production forced to close by Covid-19 just six days into Bagnor theatre run

Trish Lee

trish lee

trish.lee@newburynews.co.uk

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Wicker Husband

Wicker Husband at The Watermill Photo Johan Persson

The Wicker Husband
at The Watermill, Bagnor, on Monday, March 16
REVIEW BY CAROLINE FRANKLIN 

WHERE better to stage the world premiere of a play which takes place in a pretty village with a river and willow trees than The Watermill theatre in Bagnor?

The Wicker Husband, written by Rhys Jennings, with music and lyrics by Darren Clark, is based on a short story by Ursula Wills-Jones and was an evening of pure delight, full of songs, dance, action and emotion. It is set in a pretty village where everything is pretty – pretty people, buildings, river – all is pretty... except for one person. The tradesmen of this pretty village and their pretty wives despise the person they call Ugly Girl (an outstandingly enjoyable performance from Laura Johnson), who sells fish for a living. Mocked and treated badly, Ugly Girl’s only friend is the willow tree to whom she confides her wish for a husband. She visits an old basketmaker (superbly played and sung by Julian Forsyth) and begs him to make her a wicker husband. The scene in his workshop with Basket the wicker dog and the wicker animals he brings to life was fantastic, although it was sometimes difficult to see the action taking place at floor level. The puppetry and manipulation required to make Wicker Husband believable was something to marvel at. Puppetry designer/director Finn Caldwell, whose long and impressive CV includes his work on War Horse, brought the Wicker Man, and ‘Lady Blackthorn’, who finally vanquishes the vindictive jealous wife of the tailor, to vivid life. For when Ugly Girl and her Wicker Husband become close, the villagers are jealous and hatch a plot, part of which is to make Ugly Girl believe her husband has been unfaithful. A fire damages Wicker Man and leaves the grieving Ugly Girl in despair as she realises she has been tricked. The tailor’s wife (a beautifully vicious performance from Zoe Rainey) persuades the basketmaker to make her a wicker baby to back up the lie. When it is finished with, her husband casts it into the river where Ugly Girl finds it and cares for it. Following a wonderfully impassioned song full of fury from the basketmaker singing to the villagers “what have you done with my children?” he creates the Lady Blackthorn puppet to extract revenge. With the help of withies from the willow tree, Wicker Husband is mended and all ends happily.

This world premiere, directed by Charlotte Westenra, gave the audience an evening in which the entire cast of actors, musicians and puppeteers gave memorable performances. At the start of the evening, artistic executive and director of The Watermill, Paul Hart, had thanked the cast for their work and the audience for coming to see the result in what are hard times for the theatre industry. It is safe to say that it was a very great pleasure.

STATEMENT FROM THE WATERMILL: WE have taken the very difficult decision to cancel remaining performances of The Wicker Husband, the upcoming productions of Hamlet, Goodnight Mister Tom, Camp Albion, one-off performances and all other events organised by the Friends of The Watermill until June 6, due to the ongoing concerns over Covid-19. We have also made the decision to cancel all outreach and education activities until further notice. Our priority must always be the health and wellbeing of our audience, participants, artists and staff during this unprecedented time.nWe are deeply saddened and sincerely apologise for the disappointment this will cause. All current bookers for the affected shows will be contacted by Watermill staff as soon as possible. We ask that you do not contact the box office at this exceptionally busy time – a member of the team will be in touch directly.
While our front door is closed, we plan to stay open in other ways and are working on plans to keep in touch with our participants and audiences during this closure. We will do our utmost to support the people with whom we work during this escalating crisis. As a registered arts charity, our ticket sales are vital to our existence and cancelling performances will have a huge impact on our future. If you have bought a ticket to a show or event which has now been cancelled, we would be incredibly grateful if you feel able to donate the value of your ticket to the theatre. Alternatively, if you would like to make a one-off donation, large or small, to help us face forthcoming challenges, please visit our website watermill.org.uk
In these unprecedented times of uncertainty, we would hugely appreciate your financial support to help our beautiful theatre survive and recover so we can continue making engaging, world-class work for you to enjoy. We would like to sincerely thank the brilliant actors and creative teams involved in The Wicker Husband, Hamlet, Goodnight Mister Tom and Camp Albion for all the hard work that they have already put into their shows, and for their understanding with this difficult decision. We would also like to thank our audiences for their loyalty and support during this time. We hope to welcome you back to the theatre soon – until then, from everyone at The Watermill, please accept our heartfelt thanks for your continued support and stay safe.

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