Loveable rogue Rip Van Winkle goes on the run and, despite warnings from his wife Gretchen, finds himself in the forest, entranced and subdued into a stupor by a group of mysterious sailors. He awakes decades later to find his daughter grown and post-revolution America nothing like it was before.
The company of performers should be commended on their impressive vocal ability, with some beautiful moments of arrangement by Leon Haxby; Robin Wallington conducts a brilliant small orchestra to great effect. However, there is much left wanting from this production, namely a clear sense of what is going on (even with a mysteriously confusing plot!) and stronger pacing in general. The script additions between songs feel thoughtless and do not match the tone of the operetta itself.
The overall confusion of the piece comes primarily from the acting specifically which, in general, feels under-rehearsed and/or poorly directed. Often, the acting on stage is either too much or too muted, or doesn't reflect the words being sung at all. Perhaps this is in part due to the typical largeness of an operatic piece being performed in such an intimate space. Indeed, Robert Garland as Rip and Stephen Whitford as Derrick both embrace the closeness of the audience to our delight and entertainment. Otherwise, we are left feeling as though the space hasn't been fully considered when creating this production – especially if you're sat on the upper levels, be prepared to have sections of the performance space cut off. While it is also an understandable decision not to mic your actors in such a small venue, the volume issues throughout the performance were only enhanced by this, not helped by errors in the subtitles (though mostly a welcome and thoughtful addition).
Hannah Bennett must be praised as the highlight of this production, giving a fantastic portrayal of Rip's daughter, Alice. Though appearing on stage for a scandalously small amount of time given her abundant talent, she masters the level of exaggerated acting required without overdoing it, and her voice is absolutely beautiful. Her articulation is always perfect, and she guides the audience through her character's journey with warmth and ease.
In parts, a charming evening out, but perhaps there's a reason Rip Van Winkle (in this English version, at least) has not been revived for over 140 years.
It runs at Hoxton Hall until 1st November.
Review: Penny Lane