Lewis Cope

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

09/11/21

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh

On the face of it, Tilted Wig’s adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow would seem an appropriate choice for Autumnal viewing.

Washington Irving’s short story, published in 1819, is one of the very first Hallowe’en tales, replete with ghostly hauntings, a plethora of pumpkins and, of course, the infamous headless horseman who pursues superstitious schoolmaster Ichabod Crane and chases him clear out of town. But that is hardly ideal material for a full-length story, so playwright Philip Meeks pitches Crane (Sam Jackson) as a man of mystery, who arrives unexpectedly in Sleepy Hollow and quickly establishes himself as the town’s schoolmaster. But what is his secret agenda? And why does he never seem to do any teaching?

Local landowner, Balthus Van Tassel (Bill Ward), grudgingly accepts Crane’s presence, much to the disgust of local bully boy Brom Van Brunt (Lewis Cope), who is convinced that the incomer has set his sights on Van Tassel’s daughter, Katrina (Rose Quentin). And when local matriarch Mariette Papenfuss (Wendi Peters) takes Crane under her wing, it starts to look as though the schoolmaster will soon be offering Katrina his hand in marriage and, consequently inheriting all of her father’s wealth.

But the true reasons for Crane’s presence in the area are complicated. Perhaps too complicated, because at times the plotting here becomes almost unfathomable. Sometimes I find myself struggling to understand what characters are doing and, more importantly, why they’re doing it.

Still, there are elements to enjoy. I like the stylised linking devices, where the cast dance their way from one scene to the next; an ingeniously staged shadow-play relating one of the county’s oldest myths is clever and effective – and Sam Glossop’s ominous soundscapes give the production an atmosphere of mounting dread. Director Jake Smith pulls off a few effective jump scares and one sequence in particular, where Crane finds himself caught up in an ingeniously staged nightmare, complete with magical effects, is a highlight.

But there are rather less successful elements – too many scenes of characters climbing up a perilous-looking ladder for no apparent reason soon become wearisome – and, when the legendary headless horseman is finally glimpsed (as of course he really must be), the impact has been somewhat diminished by an earlier scene where two members of the cast burst in dressed as a pantomime version of the real thing. And then there’s a final plot twist which just feels… baffling.

Ultimately, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a mixed bag of a production, but it does have some saving graces.

3 stars

Philip Caveney