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The White Witch of Rose Hall, The Broadway Theatre – Review

Simon James Collier
Directed by Omar F. Okai

Pros: Very well cast, very well written, and the atmosphere created is fantastic.

Cons: The ticketing system was a bit stressful, as it allowed everyone to play musical chairs during the interval.

Our Verdict: An excellent show to see in Autumn – atmospheric, haunting, and eerie.

Courtesy of Broadway Theatre

A dark, stormy and blustery evening seemed the perfect night to see horror story The White Witch of Rose Hall come to life at The Broadway Theatre in Catford. It’s a very large theatre and has two shows running concurrently on different stages, but it’s impressive that given how large and glitzy the structure is, the theatre in which this performance is housed is appropriately intimate.

The show is based on a “true” story of murder, betrayal and voodoo from nineteenth-century Jamaica. It tells the story of rich white plantation owner Annie Palmer, English book-keeper Robert Rutherford, and his housekeeper – a friendly local girl named Millie. The play deals with racism, slavery and ownership, but with the terribly cruel twist that the woman with all the power and control is also a witch incapable of remorse or sympathy, who kills on whims and fancies.

We meet the cast as Rutherford arrives on the island. Groundwork is set from the initial scenes to show just how much of a fish out of water Rutherford is; he is a man of practicality, science, and logic. He is unwilling to bend or change from his stiff English ideals; this comes in handy later when he steadfastly refuses to believe in voodoo and witchcraft.

The piece is superbly cast. Gemma Rook is excellent as sociopathic plantation owner Palmer. She masters deception, and her cruelty and rage fill the walls of the dark space. Robert Pollington also impresses as Ashman – particularly when his dominance and aggression give way to fear. Millie is delightfully acted by Alicia McKenzie. Her youthful innocence, optimism and happy demeanor are an interesting paradox to Gemma Rook’s White Witch.

The performance is not for the faint of heart. There are horrible scenes of violence in the early stages of the play. They are very well handled, but this squeamish reviewer had to hide her eyes several times. The beauty of this performance is that the violence isn’t the scariest aspect. The witchcraft element is portrayed in a truly creepy manner, and the choreography for Palmer to leave the stage at the end of the first half is haunting (and absolutely stunning.)

The atmosphere created is terrific. The stage consists of hanging wooden shutters, palm leaves, sacks and boxes wrapped in burlap (which make for beds, chairs, and even a clever carriage ride.) The stage is perfect as a shack, a bungalow, and a great manor house without any adjustments to the set.

Burlap and rough canvas are also draped across the back of the stage, creating not just a clever way to enter and exit but also a perfect way to show nighttime. When it is night, the lights dim, we hear crickets chirping and there are also subtle orange lights glowing at the base of the curtains to show lantern light. Smoke regularly intermingles with the set to add to the air of foreboding, and highlight the lack of clarity of vision.

The atmosphere is tense, muggy, and you can just about taste the burlap and smoke. It’s a beautiful setting, even amidst the horror of the subject matter. It’s intimate and convincing- the audience is in Jamaica for this show. The creative team behind this show has done an excellent job at building a haunting and convincing mid-19th century colonial world.

This is a wonderful production. It dances flawlessly from scene to scene. The cast glide through smoke, and utilize the lighting wonderfully. The visuals are stunning, the atmosphere is electric, and it is properly scary. Leave this on a cool autumnal night, and you’ll find yourself checking over your shoulder. Leave this on a blustery, windy, rainy, stormy night (as I did) and I very much doubt you’ll sleep easily.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The White Witch at Rose Hall runs at The Broadway Theatre until 26th October 2013.
Box Office: 02086900002 or book online at Broadway Theatre

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  1. Last week Saturday 12/10/13, I went to see this performance and was blown away. My family and I sat right at the front. I remember visiting Rosehall when I was 7 and knew a little about the story. When I saw that this was playing in Catford I just had to go. And i’m glad I did. Amazing actresses/actors- I felt as though I was actually in the story the way they drew us in. I even shed tears at the parts the slave was getting beaten as I imagined how it must have been for all during those days.
    Especially Millie and Annie blew me away. I would watch it again.

    Well done cast!


  2. I was fortunate to see this facinating story last week. The cast were amazing bringing the charecters to life and the intimacy of the studio theatre made you feel part of the experience. The set was skillfully designed and transformed seamlessly between scenes. This is a fantastic production which should tour to enable others to share this interpritation of Rose Hall.
    Thank you for an amazing evening.

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