Monday, 20 February 2017

“Woman In Black”
Nottingham Theatre Royal
Written by Susan Hill and adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt, this play has been in the West End for 27 years. It’s the story of a lawyer, Mr Kipps, obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over him and his family by the ghost of a mysterious woman in black. He hires a young actor to help him tell his story in play form, within the play. It begins innocently enough but gradually they get caught up in Kipps’ eerie past.
Having seen the play previously, it can be difficult for a newcomer to this theatre play to conceive that a piece of theatre can have the same scare factor as the film. What we must remember though is that this was first a book and to get the most from a book, you have to use your imagination, and that’s part of the secret of this play.
Many of the scenes played out in the film are described aurally as well as having sound effects to allow the viewer to conjure up images in their own mind, in some ways quite the opposite of what theatre is meant to do as most theatrical productions are very visual, but that’s where the scare factor comes from. While your mind is conjuring up the images from the sound effects and story, this allows the visual side of the play to take over and create that “sudden” image which makes you jump.
Not only that but there’s the expectation of being frightened and when that fright comes at you in the surroundings of a place like a theatre, not at the times you expect it, that’s where the true frightening experience comes from.
The choice of set is simple yet effective. For instance a smoky stage and a lighting stencil of a vast mansion are all that there is to depict the marshland beyond the deceased Alice Drablow’s manor, leaving the audience’s mind to question what might be lurking in the mist.
The show has several ‘jumpy’ moments; the use of lighting is especially effective when revealing the ghostly figure of Jennet Humfrye in several unexpected places plus the sounds from Alice can also take you by surprise.
David Acton (Kipps) and Matthew Spencer (The Actor) are really good at building, maintaining and breaking the suspense, It's the direction by Robin Hereford, the lighting by Kevin Sleep and the sound design by Gareth Owen that make this story come to life and create the shocks.
It's not all frights though as the play, before the play within the play, has several jocular moments which is a big contrast to what is to come later in the play.
Some may say the play takes a bit of time to get going but it's very clever as it builds the tension up all throughout Act One, paving the way for a tense Act Two.
The set is sparse, which is good for not being a distraction, but the props that are there, like the rocking chair are vital and you home in on this and the music box with the knowledge that they are there for a reason, helping the anticipation and the tension because you just know that there's a reason for them being there. The raked stage also makes it very easy to see everything from front to back.
You will jump, I did and I've seen it before, and the appearance of the Woman In Black at the end will unnerve you.
"The Woman In Black" will be materialising every night until Saturday 25 February 2017 at the Nottingham Theatre Royal. It's frighteningly good!

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