Editor-in-Chief Alex Taylor and Treasurer Will Hammond review The Woman in Black, praising the actors’ performances and the production’s lighting design
The UK tour of The Woman in Black, a theatrical adaptation of Susan Hill’s bestselling novel, opened recently at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre. Set 30 years after the events of the novel, the show follows Mr Kipps (Malcolm James) who, still haunted by his experiences in Eel Marsh House, employs an actor to help portray his encounter to his loved ones, in the hope that it will put his demons to rest. ‘The Actor’ (Mark Hawkins) whom Mr Kipps employs is entertaining, melodramatic, and energetic; his enthusiasm brings the tale to life in a way that Mr Kipps confesses he is unable to. However, James’s performance as the cautious Mr Kipps ironically steals the show. Playing Mr Kipps and, in turn, every side role in the narrative, James jumps from character to character with increasing ease and versatility.
One such character, Sam Daily (Malcom James), lends Mr Kipps his small dog, after the character complains about the pure isolation he feels whilst stranded alone across the causeway. Despite the dog requiring the imagination of the audience to function, it provides an opportunity for the actors to further display their capabilities whilst bringing the dog to life. However, other methods of bringing the dog to life might better enhance the immersion that has been so well crafted previously. Regardless of the minimal criticism that we could put towards such an engaging and well-crafted production, the premise of the show being two actors rehearsing a play cleverly provides an excuse to any shortcoming of the production. It just being two actors, and the dog being imaginary, reinforces the sense of isolation that Mr Kipps feels not just in the past at Eel Marsh House, but in the present in his incapability to express what he endured.
The production’s creative and versatile lighting design completely enhances the theatrical experience, whether this be the ominous warm glow that illuminates the slither of the stage leading to the nursery door, the silhouette of the gothic staircase that young Arthur Kipps reticently climbs, or the beam of torchlight directed by the actors into the audience, causing disorientation and fear. This overall aids the production in creating a suspenseful and ominous atmosphere. Alongside this, the set changes made by Mr Kipps and the Actor during their own rehearsal are not only efficient and smooth, but a display of ingenuity by the production team, and one of many cases of the production’s minimalist versatility.
The Woman in Black is not the book; it is not the film: it is the stage. Whilst adapting to this format, The Woman in Black somewhat undersells the source material without delivering something entirely new, half-heartedly altering aspects of the novel’s narrative. Nevertheless, the production has echoed through Britain’s theatre landscape for the past 30 years, being (like the threatening phantom herself) somewhat legendary. It seems that the presence of The Woman in Black has never been unfelt, with the production appearing to rely on this at times. For those who scare easily, The Woman in Black will not require the theatre staff to clean up after you, but it will thrill, entertain, and leave you feeling apprehensive about extinguishing your candle before retiring for the night.
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