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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Ambassador Theatre Group Present

 

The Woman in Black

 

 

Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the novel by Susan Hill

 

 

Directed by Robin Hereford

 

 

Design by Michael Holt

 

 

Lighting by Kevin Sleep

 

 

Fortune Theatre

 

 

Now Booking until February 25, 2012

 

 

On the sparse and worn stage of the Fortune Theatre two men meet, leading to a seemingly, impromptu performance which turns the entire audience into unwitting voyeurs. Arthur Kipps (Ben Deery) has been beleaguered for years by a haunting spate of events which he has decided to finally recall aloud in order to exorcise them from his mind. The Actor, (David Acton) whose advise Kipps has sought for the planning of this recital, receives his request with an enthusiasm and openness that will be key to the whole dramatic effect of The Woman in Black. Hereafter he represents Arthur in the story while Arthur himself plays all of the characters who informed the story as it originally unfolded. In the hands of Ben Deery and David Acton, the latest duo to tackle a story which has been told in this same theatre night after night for the past twenty three years, the tale feels as much of a painful secret as it will have done when first told on stage in Scarborough in 1987.

Early in the action the audience becomes privy to the fact that their theatre seats are considered empty, which results in a strange sense of isolation. This feeling is exacerbated as the set which, by will of our prodded imaginations and a wonderfully improvised train journey, turns to Eel Marsh House. This has previously been home, for many lonely years, to the recently deceased Alice Drablow. Arthur Kipps has been assigned the task of going to the barely attended funeral and the case of sorting out Mrs Drablow's personal and financial affairs, a seemingly menial task which paves the way for an initial chilling experience at the graveside. As the eerie marshes surrounding the old manor fill up after his arrival, Kipps becomes trapped on a temporary island where not one local inhabitant dares to accompany him. The power of the unsaid is pivotal in the build up of dramatic tension in The Women in Black. Kipps is driven to the house by horse and trap with an almost completely silent driver. On a later visit a dog called Spider, though invisible to the audience, becomes a much needed companion for Kipps and its presence is effectually indicated on more than one occasion by both actors.

Simple costume changes effectively indicate changes in character, particularly for David Acton, who creeps convincingly into his role as the real Arthur Kipps and in turn all of the characters that formed part of the narrative he aches to be rid of. A rack of clothes sits unobtrusively at the side of the stage, cementing the play’s self-referential undertones. Seemingly simple props add finesse to the production - stacked and bound bundles of papers in all shapes and sizes become records of a real life lived in the confines of Eel Marsh House as Arthur sorts through the Drablow papers.

Finely tuned lighting and sound effects marry effortlessly, greatly enhancing the frights which are largely applied through tried and tested, traditional methods – piercing screams and banging doors are pivotal. In a dream scene, aural flashbacks and a perceptibly disturbed, sleeping Arthur Kipps are mingled with dramatic lighting to best effect. The cold grey atmosphere is not only painstakingly described, but excellently illustrated: the huge old house is represented by a lighted silhouette which is suitably vast and mysterious, and smoke fills the stage as the inescapable mist of the marsh descends on the scene. The Woman in Black herself is omnipresent, and after her first appearance, the fuelled imaginations of an expectant audience almost will her to appear, only to shriek and retreat each time she does so.

It is little surprise that The Woman in Black continues to draw crowds night after night, year after year. Its power hinges on its enthralling self-reflective staging and its reliance on a belief in the supernatural that the audience cannot help but fall into, alongside Arthur Kripps who emphatically “does not believe in ghosts” , on first sighting. David Acton and Ben Deery's interpretations will ensure that yet another round of theatre goers are treated to a thoroughly entertaining night of good old fashioned frights, impacted by a gripping plot, housed in a perfect setting.

 

 

Box Office
www.ambassadortickets.com/london / 0844 871 7651
Fortune Theatre
Russell Street
Covent Garden
London
Tuesday – Sunday @ 8pm
Matinees:Tuesday 3pm, Saturday 4pm
Tickets: Stalls £45, £35, Dress Circle £45, £35, Upper Circle £24.50, £16.50
 
From 9th January 2012 the performance schedule will change to:
Tuesday – Saturday at 8pm
Tuesday & Thursday at 3pm, Saturday at 4pm
 
www.thewomaninblack.com
 
 

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