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Things that go bump in the night
Woman in Black
Member Name: hogsflesh
Woman in Black
Date: 07/11/03, updated on 07/11/03 (545 review reads)
Advantages: Rather nicely done, old-fashioned ghost story that's, been going for years
Disadvantages: Well, I wasn't scared, as such, but it was spooky, and atmospheric
The plot goes like this: In an unspecified Northern coastal town, sometime in the Nineteenth Century, an old lady, Mrs Drablow, has just died, leaving her sinister house and bundles of paperwork. In London her lawyers send the young Kipps oop north to attend her funeral and put her affairs in order. Kipps hopes to get the job done as quickly as possible, so as to return to London and his fiancée. Upon arrival he observes that all the locals react with suspicion and fear when he mentions his business. (You know, like when someone in a Hammer horror asks the local innkeeper the way to scenic Castle Dracula.) Unperturbed by all this, he resolves to crack on with the task in hand, rational sort of chap that he is. And that's pretty much all I can tell you of the plot, as anything else would spoil it. As you might imagine, it all hinges on a woman in black.
There is, of course, a framing narrative. What Victorian ghost story would be complete without one? Mr Kipps, now an older man, is determined to tell of his experiences in Mrs Drablow's house. He's written it out as a short story, and proposes to read it to an invited audience. He has hired an actor to help him prepare. The actor, however, complains that no one will be able to sit through Kipps' story, and after a certain amount of discussion, the two act out the story as if it were a play, with the actor playing the young Kipps, and Kipps himself playing all the other parts. (We, the audience, only learn what happened as the two men act it out - the play-within-a-play
is the really important bit.)
This may seem like a rather convoluted way of doing things, but it is ultimately incredibly effective. The fact that we're only seeing events second-hand doesn't diminish the effectiveness of the story one jot. It must also make the play extremely profitable, what with only needing two actors. The cast was excellent. Colin Hurley as the actor, slipping in and out of character as the play demanded, was very good, especially when portraying the fear of being alone in an old dark house at night. Pip Donaghy as Kipps was also very good in what is probably the more difficult role, not only playing the man to whom all this actually happened, but also having to jump in and out of many other characters during the course of the play, each of them very effectively realised.
The Fortune Theatre, where The Woman in Black plays, is a small, slightly shabby looking theatre off Drury Lane (Covent Garden is the nearest tube, although you'll need a map of some kind if you don't know the area well.) Across the road is the much larger and more impressive looking Theatre Royal, where Anything Goes is currently playing (highly recommended if you like Cole Porter). But the rather down-at-heel nature of the Fortune actually works quite well in the context of the play (and since it's been running there for almost 15 years, I'd imagine the decision to allow the theatre to become a bit grimy was intentional). The theatre dates from the 1920s, and has a typical proscenium arch stage. It has the usual West End theatre stuff: small bars, small toilets, people selling overpriced ice-creams during the interval, effusive reviews hanging outside. Tickets go from £10 to £32.50, and the play lasts about two hours, with interval. (It seemed shorter, but I think that's because it's very well paced.)
Myself and my friend had the best seats in the house. I wasn't supposed to be there at all - his girlfriend had
bought them tickets for Hallowe'en as a late birthday present, but then she couldn't go. Heh heh heh. So I got to see it for free. The seats themselves have a serious lack of leg-room, a typical problem in the West End, but my legs aren't particularly long, so it didn't bother me too much. What did annoy me was the number of people near me who chose to sit eating sweets throughout. People making any kind of noise in the theatre always fill me with irrational fury. What kind of mentality does it take to think that you won't be able to sit through a play without a bag of Revels to munch on?
The play is very well done, and conjures up a very creepy atmosphere. It also knows when to throw in some nice little humorous bits to lighten the mood. I didn't actually scream, or even jump, at any point. I think I've read so many horror stories, and seen so many horror films, that I know how these things are paced, and so could predict more or less accurately when things were going to happen. This certainly wasn't a problem for most of the other members of the audience, though, who repeatedly screamed like Banshees. This isn't a disturbing, horrifying story, but it is scary (in a fun way), so I suppose you should stay away if you're of a nervous disposition.
Probably not something I'd have paid to go and see, I was pleasantly surprised by The Woman in Black. If you're looking for a good bit of commercial theatre in London, you won't do much better. (Well, maybe The Mousetrap, but no force on earth will compel me to see that.)
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