Thursday, 20 July 2006

The Woman in Black, July 20, 2006

 The Woman in Black  
Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt
By Newtheatricals, Lunchbox Theatrical Productions & Singapore Repertory Theatre
Comedy Theatre,  July 20 to July 28, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 20, 2006

The Woman in Black, by Stephen Mallatratt, is a theatrical phenomenon. It has run for 19 years on the West End. Perhaps its longevity is because it is a ghost story. Audiences love to be scared with the lights out in a safe environment.

The play, directed imaginatively by Robin Herford, is a two-hander (John Waters, Brett Tucker) adapted from Susan Hill’s novel.  Mallatratt employed simple theatrical conventions to solve the telling of a wordy story. Two actors play all characters and lighting, props and sound cunningly evoke atmosphere, landscape and terror.

This production begins slowly but dramatic tension escalates when Arthur Kipps (Waters) reaches Eel Marsh House on the intemperate English coast.

Kipps, an aged lawyer, engages a young Actor (Tucker) to train him in the art of public speaking so that he, Kipps, might tell his account of a terrifying, ghostly encounter in his youth and purge himself of its horrors.

The Actor insists the story be theatricalised. He plays Kipps throughout and Kipps plays all other dramatis personae.

A versatile Waters is compelling, transforming physically and vocally with the change of a coat into the numerous eccentric characters in this cleverly wrought production. Each is a study in Englishness: Kipps’ doddering employer; Daly, a sympathetic local; Kedwick, the taciturn carriage driver; Jerome, the nervous land agent; and the publican.

Tucker, as the Actor and the young Kipps, provides a strong balance for Waters. His Actor is an exuberant, arrogance young artist and he depicts Kipps’ journey into darkness and terror credibly.

Kipps must attend the funeral of Mrs. Alice Dablow, an aged client, and then spend days at her isolated manor, sorting her papers. Kipps realises the locals are reticent to speak of her and only Kedwick will drive him. When he arrives, he confronts terrifying phantoms in the graveyard, house and marshes.

The production uses reliable old conventions to scare the pants off us: the sudden reveal, a scream, doors slamming, suspenseful walks into darkened rooms, sputtering out, unreadable tombstones, impenetrable fogs and animated objects.

Michael Holt‘s dusty, old theatre design is a character in its own right. A rear scrim reveals rooms, tombs and staircase when backlit. Damien Cooper’s lighting and smoky atmosphere portray the dense fogs of the marshlands.

But it is the suspense and sudden reveals of the dark lady that elicit shrieks and starts from the audience.

By Kate Herbert

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