THE WOMAN IN BLACK
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 22nd May, 2017
It’s unusual to have a long-running show in the West End (27 years and counting!) that isn’t yet another musical or The Mousetrap. The longevity of The Woman In Black is testament to its brilliance – everyone should go and see it at least once. Even when you know what’s coming, the show is still a suspenseful thrill-ride. And now, with this touring production, you have your chance.
Ostensibly, a two-hander, Stephen Mallatratt’s masterly adaptation of Susan Hill’s chilling ghost story keeps its theatricality to the fore. Arthur Kipps (David Acton) has recruited an actor (Matthew Spencer) to rehearse the telling of his own experiences with the eponymous apparition. Using only basic furniture to represent every location, along with recorded sound effects and well-placed lighting, their narrative works on our imagination – and this is what makes the stage version infinitely superior to the film. Nothing can scare us more than our own minds. It begins with humour as the performance style is established and between scenes from Kipps’s story, the men drop in and out of the framing device – there is an ongoing story here that will also come to a chilling conclusion… Gradually, Kipps’s story takes over and the atmosphere grips, the action surprises, makes us jump.
It’s a real showcase for the two performers. Matthew Spencer is excellent as the effusive ‘actor’ taking on the role of the younger Kipps – it is his reactions that create much of the terror – while David Acton demonstrates his range, first as the nervous, ineffectual orator Kipps and then as everyone else in the story. Such is the skill of the two that we are made to care about a little dog, Spider, that isn’t even there!
Robin Herford’s direction pushes all the right buttons in all the right places. Especially effective are the silences, keeping us on edge. Michael Holt’s deceptively simple design sits well within the Grand’s ornate proscenium. Similarly, Kevin Sleep’s straightforward lighting proves you don’t need realism to ignite the imagination. The whole enterprise is decidedly spooky and fills us with dread. And delight. Scaring audiences at the theatre is difficult to pull off, with all the coughing and fidgeting and the nervous laughter, but The Woman In Black continues to put the willies up us (if that’s not a contradiction!) and long may she continue!
Go and see her before she comes to see you!!
Give him a big hand! Matthew Spencer exploring the haunted house…
Leave a comment | tags: David Acton, Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Kevin Sleep, Matthew Spencer, Michael Holt, review, Robin Herford, Stephen Mallatratt, Susan Hill, The Woman in Black | posted in Theatre Review
THE MIST IN THE MIRROR
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 15th April, 2015
Oldham Coliseum is touring this adaptation of a Susan Hill novel in a bid to recreate the atmosphere and no doubt the lucrative success of the long-(still!)-running stage version of her earlier novel, The Woman in Black. Like that version, adapter Ian Kershaw uses narration and story-within-a-story to set the scene. Hill’s language, coupled with Barney George’s striking costumes evoke the Victorian period, and that works very well. Unfortunately, the production is dominated by the set. Ostensibly a black box with sections that open and close, changes of location and mood are signalled by visual effects, animated projections by a company called imitating the dog. The images are attractive in themselves and useful for speedy depiction of a scene but I feel there is just too many of them, distracting from the action and some of the wordier passages of narration. Consequently, I am not caught up in the atmosphere and am feeling the lack of suspense. Director Kevin Shaw relies heavily on sudden loud noises to give us a jolt but on the whole the scenes are too short and bitty to permit any real build-up of tension.
Paul Warriner is our hero, a young man seeking information about his family’s mysterious past. He makes a dashing gentleman – perhaps there is too much dashing around! Jack Lord is the ‘reader’, a narrator who takes over the exposition every now and then. A lovely, rich voice but he tells the tale as if it is his, rather than reading it and being gripped by it for the first time in the book he holds as a prop. Martin Reeve crops up in a range of roles but, with all the comings and goings, I find it difficult to keep track of who is whom – another distraction from the plot. Sarah Eve and Caroline Harding play the female roles but there is not all that much for them to do.
There is a ghost popping on and off – some appearances are more effective than others – but the resolution seems rushed. And so I come away disappointed. Less of a moving storybook approach would give the story a chance. Scenes need time to breathe if they are to give us a scare, but I will say Lorna Munden’s sound design goes a long way to compensate for the show’s shortcomings. An emphasis on sound rather than visuals might have been a better way to go.
Leave a comment | tags: Barney George, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Caroline Harding, Ian Kershaw, Imitating the Dog, Jack Lord, Kevin Shaw, Lorna Munden, Martin Reeve, Oldham Coliseum Theatre, Paul Warriner, review, Sarah Eve, Susan Hill, The MIst in the Mirror | posted in Theatre Review
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
Festival Theatre, Malvern, Tuesday 14th May, 2013
Stephen Mallatratt’s splendid adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel continues to pull in the crowds in London’s West End, and this touring production shows no dip in quality. The genius of the adaptation is that it celebrates its theatricality. The central ghost story becomes a play-within-a-play. Arthur Kipps (Julian Forsyth) has enlisted The Actor (Antony Eden) to help him zhuzh up his storytelling techniques – he has a tale from his past he needs to get off his chest. As they rehearse, the Actor brings in more and more theatrical elements (lighting changes, recorded sounds) taking on the role of Kipps for himself. This means that Kipps has to portray all the other characters in the story and as we are led through some humorous scenes that chart Kipps’s halting progress as a budding performer, we are introduced to the conventions that will be used as the central narrative takes shape.
And so we are drawn in to the tale of a young solicitor visiting the remote estate of a deceased client. There is a town of suspicious and truculent locals and a tragic history that makes everyone shifty and jumpy.
It works brilliantly.
The atmosphere is quickly created and the tension cranks up through judicious use of silence and sudden loud noises. People scream. As more details about the story are teased out, the terror in the auditorium becomes almost palpable.
Antony Eden leads the performance as the Actor, guiding Kipps through his various roles, and playing out moments of suspense and shock with perfect timing. Julian Forsyth is endearing as the mumbling Kipps who gets into his stride with an impressive range of characterisations.
Robin Herford’s direction plays the audience like a string section. Contrasts of loud and quiet, stillness and movement, and changes of pace keep us on edge. When laughter comes, it is from nervous relief. Our imaginations are thoroughly engaged – and no one can scare you more than you can scare yourself.
I think people keep going back to The Woman in Black precisely because it delivers a theatrical experience. It puts us through the mill via tried and tested theatrical conventions and techniques. It is like surrendering yourself to a ride at a theme park. A ghost train.
Something’s gone bump…Antony Eden has a rough night
Leave a comment | tags: Antony Eden, Julian Forsyth, Malvern Theatres, review, Robin Herford, Stephen Mallatratt, Susan Hill, The Woman in Black | posted in Theatre Review