Review: Sleepy Hollow at York Theatre Royal

York Theatre Royal’s Haunted Season progresses towards Halloween with a truly Gothic version of this American masterpiece.

By Angie Millard

The play explores an eerie world of secrets and illusion, incorporating the iconic headless horseman. I was fascinated to see what they had made of the piece but I was disappointed by the length and lack of narrative tightness of the production. It is still early in the run and changes will probably be made.

Jake Smith the director feels the play is important because it includes conversations around the identity of communities and humankind throughout the world and with the advent of the Covid virus, people were asking questions about our values.

The chief protagonist, Ichabod, is a teacher who comes as an unwelcome visitor to the village. He seems at first to be unaware of his past and how this impacts on events. It is interesting that he represents the great American dream which Smith says came into question during the Trump era and much value is placed on money in the play.

The production is touring only proscenium arch theatres because of the dynamic of the staging. Many people will have seen the Tim Burton film but the stage play is a different experience. Theatre is a powerful medium and offers devices which are exploited to the full by the illusionist, Filipe J. Carvalho. He creates spectacle and unease through his illusions and the  use of lighting effects and sound are a very important part of this process. Dream sequences and acting out of the legend provide a vehicle for this.

The actors play many characters which enhances the idea of the story. Ichabod is an anti-hero who has his own dark secret and Sam Jackson inhabits the multi-faceted role with conviction. Bill Ward plays the powerful village elder, Lewis Cope is a muscular adversary of the hero as Brom ‘Bones’ van Brunt, and Rose Quentin plays Katrina, the romantic interest but all is not as it seems in Sleepy Hollow.

Wendi Peters is strong in the role of the widow Mariette Papenfuss, Ichabod’s protector but the quality of the script lets her down and leads her and the cast into meaningless sound and fury. Time after time, the effects rescue the piece.

The music Director is Chris Cumming and he also performs as an accompanist; music and dancing feature heavily in the piece as well as being used as a device to move the action along and I loved the muscularity of their movement. The play is an obvious choice for school parties and an Education pack is provided which will help to furnish drama Teachers with a mass of information.

Sleepy Hollow is a Tilted Wig production and will be performed at York Theatre Royal until 9 October. The cast are: Wendi Peters as Mariette Papanfuss; Bill Ward as Baltus Van Tassel; Sam Jackson as Ichabod Crane; Rose Quentin as Katrina; Lewis Cope as Brom (Bones) Van Brunt; and Tommy Simaan as Joost De Groot.

The play was adapted for the stage by Philip Meeks and is directed by Jake Smith. The Illusionist is Filipe. J. Carvalho. Musical Direction is by Chris Cumming, sound by Sam Glossop, and lighting by Jason Addison. The designer is Amy Watts.