The Woman in Black

I recently went to watch The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre in Covent Garden as a university field trip as part of my Arts & Entertainment Journalism module. Here is my review of it!

Less is more in Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of The Woman In Black at the Fortune Theatre. With just two main actors, Ken Drury and Adam Best, and a handful of props – the key is simplicity. The whole show hangs on the appearance of the Woman In Black, who emerges and disappears out of nowhere, or is illuminated for a second in a shift in the lighting. She is seen approximately six times throughout the show, but for no longer than the blink of an eye. Her appearances are anticipated but unexpected, and this makes her presence very powerful, lingering on stage and in the audience’s minds after she has gone.

The effects in the play are almost the fourth character. The actors in their simplest terms are narrating a story, with the effects bringing it to life. The low lighting compliments the dark atmosphere and reveals the curtained off upstage area towards the end of the play that is used to show secondary locations away from where the main scene is happening, such as the inside of the locked room in the mansion or the graveyard outside. The sound also emphasises the drama and enforces the acting, by using overly loud background sounds for the events that are happening in the story. The best use of sound was when we finally saw the Woman In Black fully materialize on stage – and piercing screams filtered into the theatre – mixing with the audience’s own.

The play is frightening because it exploits the basic concept of human fear, which is the most powerful of our emotions. We respond to fear with a psychological and emotional response, so the audience may scream, cry, laugh, or at least jump a few times. The play is driven by suspense, and starts with the actors lulling you in to a false sense of security through humour. The characters are awkwardly introduced, which makes the audience feel relaxed. This is very cunning as it does two things – leaves you anticipating when we will see The Woman in black, and making it more shocking when we do.

The use of multi-rolling from Ken Drury is very clever, as he starts off playing the elderly Mr Kipps who is tormented by the ghost story of his past. He meets a young actor who performs his tale, whilst he adopts the role of the other characters central to the story, switching from one to another with the addition of a hat or a pair of glasses. Ken and Adam have ‘learnt to trust the play’ over time, accepting that everybody takes the story in a different way. The Woman In Black requires a level of connection from the audience, as you have to imagine the locations and other characters for yourself through words. It’s an exercise for the brain, which is the opposite of how we’re now so used to technology thinking for us. This could be one of the reasons why it is the second longest-running West End play to date.

The ending leaves a lasting impression as it hangs in the audience’s belief of the plot. If you believed the story then the tale may haunt you as the cliffhanger is revealed, but I won’t spoil it for you… (hint: featured image)

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