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The Woman In Black

I haven’t written anything on here for quite a while, but that’s probably because I don’t have anything Prague related to say, except perhaps “Yay, we’re all going to Prague!” But I wanted to put up something so I don’t get rusty, so I thought I’d do a little theatrical review.

I’ve just literally got back from the Grand Opera House in Belfast, from watching The Woman In Black. The Grand Opera House is a venue that hosts mainly big budget touring shows, a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and enormous pantomimes at Christmas. For those of you who are not British or Irish you will need to look up pantomime on Wikipedia. The Grand Opera House recently underwent a refurbishment, spending an awful lot of money de-raking the stage floor, arguing that large-scale touring productions will not tour on a raked stage.

Grand Opera HouseTo be honest I had never heard of The Woman In Black before, I’m not really into West End shows, I find they are very much like Hollywood films: poor scripts, mediocre performances and over-the-top special effects (only not as good as Hollywood). But someone had told me that it was a horror, and it was a ghost story, and it was scary. I was intrigued. I love ghost stories, I’m addicted to Asian horror movies. Plus, last year I wrote a horror for the stage which I hoped to be scary, and I was wondering if

  1. A stage show can be scary, and
  2. I had just unwittingly re-written The Woman In Black.

Obviously the second point is crucial, because I would have to trash the entire play if I had. So I bought an incredibly overpriced ticket and went to find out.

The good news is I get to keep my play. It’s nothing like The Woman In Black. The Woman In Black is a traditional ghost story in the style of H P Lovecraft, whereas my play is more…well, I won’t tell you what it’s about. As for the first point, I still don’t know. This show was not in the slightest bit scary, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In fact, I don’t think the director of this production actually knows what fright is, the performance had more of an air of pantomime about it. The script does not lend itself to stage horror, it would be more at home around a campfire. I honestly believe my play has a better chance of scaring people.

But you aren’t reading this to find out about an un-produced play. Let’s talk about this Woman. I won’t tell you what happens in case you decide to go and see it, I’ll just tell you what I thought: it was a pile of crap. The Woman In BlackPeople had told me great things about the special effects in this show, but I couldn’t see them. Certainly there were things that were done reasonably well, but anything can be done reasonably well if enough money is thrown at it. There was nothing ingenious here, or even moderately impressive.

However, that’s not necessarily a bad point, just a point that I was misled on. Trying to rely on special effects for frights is a grave mistake (I couldn’t resist that pun), how many slasher flicks have ever actually been scary? Things are most frightening when we can’t see them. Indeed, the only point during this play when I thought I might get a little unsettled was when all the lights went out and the only actor on stage was scrambling around the raked floor with a flashlight.

The sound effects were not good. They incorporated some basic delay and reverb that could have been made by putting the microphone at the bottom of a tin bucket. The sound effects repertoire – the blood curdling screams, the clap-clap of the horse’s hooves, the sound of the train carriage – may very well have been borrowed from a carny’s ghost ride.

But I don’t want to say just bad things about this performance. When the woman in black was in the shadows, and we couldn’t see her face, the effect was quite eerie. As soon as she was lit, however, she became just a woman. And when we saw her face she was very obviously a living woman. This just ruined it for me. People’s imaginations are much better than any effects a person may come up with, and especially in theatre, we have to use the imagination of the audience to our advantage. The odd thing is that the script itself actually asks the audience to conjure up a horse-and-cart and a dog out of their imagination, but then presents them with what is clearly an actress masquerading as a ghost.

All in all, I wanted my money back at the end of this show. I can only take comfort in the fact that I refused to give them more money by buying ice-cream during the interval. But I did learn a thing or two. I learned that sound effects have to be spot on to work, and that if you want to scare someone, don’t let them see what it is they are supposed to be scared of. Let them think it up for themselves.



3 thoughts on “The Woman In Black

  1. Always good to read your posts Will..

    Must admit i’ve never seen The Woman in Black, even when i’ve been offered comps because i’ve known cast members… i think like you i’ve probably never been terribly interested in commercial theatre. That said people have raved about various productions… especially ones that relied on subtle use of special effects.

    Completly agree about slasher films…. scariest film i ever saw was the original “The Haunting” never been so scared of a door kob in all my life!

    Posted by Martin Paling | May 11, 2007, 11:22 pm
  2. You obviously did not understand the play sufficiently to realise why the audience were allowed to see the actual woman in black.
    This play within a play, or more to the point, this rehearsal of a play within a play , without doubt asks the audience to commit its imagination and emotion throughout, but we have to actually see the ghost herself to realise that the actor playing ‘kipps’ is seeing her and is therfore , supposedly along with the audience, cursed for evermore!!

    Posted by louise fairley | July 9, 2007, 4:58 pm
  3. I do know that the reason the woman is shown is because the audience are supposed to understand that Kipps can see her. However, that is not the only way to show that, in fact it’s a rather lazy way of writing, and it’s cheesy as hell.

    And yes, I know that the audience are supposedly doomed at the end of the play, along with the young actor, which is utterly absurd. No matter how involved an audience gets, they are never going to go away thinking they are cursed by some old hag with dodgy make-up, not even if that old hag happens to be Anne Robinson.

    However, even though this is a shit play that borders on panto, with shit writing, the writer has made more money out of it than I probably ever will in my whole lifetime, so that will be of some consolation to him.

    Posted by Will McNeice | July 10, 2007, 5:43 pm

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