The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Reviewer's rating

The mention of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow might bring a number of thoughts to mind: Halloween and pumpkins, ghost stories told with a fruity New England accent, Johnny Depp in a high collar. Almost certainly it will call up images of a demonic horseman, riding a diabolical steed and swinging his severed head in his hands. It is telling, then, that such a constant, menacing presence in the story is barely mentioned in this production of Sleepy Hollow, appearing only briefly and anti-climactically.

Instead, the story of schoolteacher Ichabod Crane’s travails in the haunted eighteenth-century settlement of Sleepy Hollow gets bogged down in rambling origin stories for the various goblins, witches and other characters created for this production. Washington Irving, the original author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, does mention, ‘local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions’, but provides little in the way of details.

In contrast, and possibly attempting to stretch out Irving’s relatively slight short story, writer Philip Meeks has taken these hints and tried to flesh them out. The subsequent convoluted plot, told through much incomprehensible jumping backwards and forwards in time, becomes increasingly hard to follow.

As a consequence, the production feels somewhat muddled in both its plotting and tone. It is hard to see, for instance, what the rather poorly handled queer subplot is contributing. While the idea could have brought a fresh voice to a traditional story, it is executed clumsily, leading to a closeted gay character being outed against his will for no obvious reason with predictably tragic consequences. Not only does it seem wildly insensitive, it is also totally out of keeping with the rest of the show and feels bolted on merely to inject ‘modern relevance’, and possibly an excuse for some male toplessness.

Tonally, it’s very hard to tell who this production is aimed at. The toplessness, mild swearing and crude masturbation references might suggest a bawdy night out for adults. Indeed, the first exchange on stage involves an STI joke and a lot of crotch-grabbing. However, the special effects, scares and characterisation have more in common with panto and seem targeted at a much younger audience. Neither age is likely to find themselves satisfied.

The mostly young cast do their best, with Rose Quentin (playing Katrina van Tassel) being particularly game. Wendi Peters (Widow Mariette Papenfuss) and Bill Ward (Baltus van Tassel) bring some solidity to proceedings, but they’re possibly not aided by having to generate an atmosphere in a reasonably empty, Wednesday-night theatre.

The flaws of this production are perhaps best summed up by the fact the headless horseman, such a key element of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, becomes overwhelmed and diluted by the confusing plethora of other stories, ghosts and ghouls that are introduced. He becomes an entirely peripheral figure in his own play. Far from being ‘the dominant spirit’ of Irving’s story, he seems more of an afterthought, and this production does itself no favours in side-lining him