The other evening I had the unique pleasure of watching the theatre production of The Woman in Black at The Alhambra in Bradford.
The original production has been going on in Covent Garden for the last 23 years (the second longest-running play in the history of the West End) but now, following the successful release of the 2012 film version, the show has gone on tour for the first time - and I urge you to go and watch it if you have the chance.
Here’s a quick rundown of each of the main incarnation of The Woman in Black:
The original novella by Susan Hill was published in 1983 and tells a good (if rather straightforward) story about a young lawyer named Arthur Kipps who experiences the ghostly hauntings of the titular apparition when visiting Eel Marsh House, situated near the remote town of Crythin Gifford.
A television adaptation of the same story was made in 1989 (viewable in full HERE) which, apart from changing the names and some minor story details, remained largely faithful to the source material.
And we all know of the 2012 big budget version starring Daniel ‘I wish they would stop always referring to me Harry Potter’ Radcliffe, from the newly revived Hammer films. This version was a neat and suitably grim re-telling of the story, although it did deviate from the original story at certain points.
Also back in 1989 however, the theatre show was developed – and this stands out from the other adaptations due to some major changes in the delivery of the story. You see, the theatre version only feature two actors. And a minimal set.
This is where the cleverness of the whole thing comes in. In this version, Arthur Kipps is an old man who enlists the help of a young actor in order to help retell his story as a form of therapy. So the young man plays ‘young Kipps’ and the old man plays everyone else. A play within a play.
And yet you are never confused as to whether they are performing their original roles or their secondary ones – such is the clever use of simple costume changes, accents and mannerisms. The story is brought to life on the relatively bare set through utilising the power of imagination, effective lighting and sound design (many of these referenced explicitly between the two characters within the performance), not to mention the great writing and talented performances that is required of the two actors to pull it all off convincingly.
Even if the story itself doesn't compel you, the exploration of the notions of theatre, performance, imagination, layers of reality and audience complicity are all so interestingly interwoven, it’s hard not to be utterly captivated. It is simply amazing how it manages to bring the story to life - a simple example: never have I witnessed so much audience sympathy for an imaginary dog.
As well as being remarkably clever, the show is also scary - an effective chiller, both in terms of its creepy atmosphere and sudden jumps. I won’t write any spoilers here, but the performance I went to had its fair share of college kids (as it is currently on the curriculum) whose screams of terror increased in frequency and volume as the show went on.
The Woman In Black theatre show is definitely recommended and you should catch one of the remaining tour dates while you can. It’s a minimalist masterpiece – not bad for something that was originally conceived simply because they had to adhere to a micro budget for the actors, set and costumes.
Sometimes less is very much more.
You can see the remaining tour dates and more info on the production at the official Woman In Black website HERE.
9 Mar 2013