The Legend of Sleepy Hollow review – butchered plotting, bloodless horror

Outside Sleepy Hollow, a sign implores visitors: “Don’t pass by. Stay forever.” In Tilted Wig’s new version of the popular gothic story, it’s not somewhere you want to linger.

The show, loosely adapted from Washington Irving’s short story, follows the arrival of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane (Sam Jackson) to the superstitious hamlet where he attracts the attentions of wealthy local leader Baltus Van Tassel (Bill Ward), his daughter Katrina (Rose Quentin) and the enigmatic widow Mariette Papenfuss (Wendi Peters). But something isn’t quite right – in more ways than one.

Writer Philip Meeks has turned Irving’s slender tale into a sprawling mess of a plot. Every inhabitant of Sleepy Hollow – as well as incomer Ichabod – seems to be harbouring a deep, dark secret. This version is so eager to wrong-foot its audience that it turns the mystery into incoherence. It’s not helped by the often garbled delivery of dialogue, in accents that skitter around the globe.

For a horror show, it’s remarkably un-scary. In two and a bit hours, there are perhaps two genuine frights. The rest of the time, director Jake Smith tries to manufacture a chilling atmosphere with dry ice and a moody soundscape. Scenes are often short and baffling, punctuated with gloomily lit movement sequences, accompanied by creepy singing or tense music. These moments seem designed primarily to remind us that this is meant to be spooky.

At times, it almost feels like Meeks and Smith are sending up the whole genre, which would make for a more enjoyable evening. Instead, this is a muddled stew of tired horror tropes.

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