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The Woman in Black

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The Woman in Black

The venue for the woman in black was the fortune theatre in London
only 100 yrds from Covent Garden. The Theatre from outside appears
small old and slightly decrepit, inside there was no attempt to
prepare one for or indeed set the atmosphere for the nature of the
play in question. The Fortune is notoriously small and the intimacy
between actor and audience was brought out well by the fact that the
furthest seats can only have been 15m away. The theatre is of
Victorian style with ornate decorations and red carpets and seating,
this instantly transport one to the era in which the play is set in
the 19th century. The stage is open for the audience to see before the
play starts and is set out as the stage in a small theatre, a basket
for props, two chairs, a rack of costumes and buckets catching water
from a leaky roof. The most important part of the set though was the
gauze at the back of the stage separating a separate scene behind and
revealing it hen needed using lighting. This combination of props an
structure conveys the location strongly to the audience without being
so defined that it is not possible to change the scene. The time we
waited before the play actually started was around 15 and contrary to
usual procedure for plays there was no kind of background music which
gave a slightly eerie edge to the wait.

The play started in the theatre depicted on the stage and almost
immediately the humour of the actor trying to instil a little panache
in Mr Kipps’s reading of his memoirs. Any tension or apprehension the
audience heard with regards to the plays reputation as a horror
dissipated this I feel lulled the audience into a false sense of
security which made shocks later in the play a lot more effective. The
most important element of the play I feel was the lighting without a
doubt, spotlights were used to great effect and to draw attention to
subtler facial expressions something which cannot be used so much in
theatre acting. Also it allowed the gauze to be rendered opaque or see
through at the click of a switch which enabled the stage hands to
change set whilst the play continued allowing for swift changes as if
actually by magic. Also the eerie scenes played out behind the gauze
were added to by the slightly murky look that was achieved, another
effective use of lighting was the torch when Kipps is searching the
house for the ghost and when he sits down shines the beam above and
behind him to reveal the woman in black standing behind him, the torch
is clearly specially narrow beamed so that only a small area is
visible and the audience feels the tension as they realise that the
woman in black is lurking in the shadows and although the urge to warn
him. The one problem was that in the dark theatre my eyes had adjusted
to the dark and I could see the woman before the torch beam revealed
her this could have perhaps been countered by shining the light in the
eyes of the audience so as to destroy their night vision and really
flaunt the moment for all its shock potential. Again in the church
scene the lighting creating a cross in bright light on the gauze not
only added to the impression of the dinginess and sobriety of the rest
of the scene also the sheer size which was possible using lighting
instead of a prop meant that the huge cross gave the impression of the
insignificance of man in the face of the supernatural. One use of
lighting that I felt really was crucial to the scene was when Kipps is
ascending the staircase towards the nursery with the rocking chair,
the entire image is silhouetted which turned an innocent act like
ascending a staircase into a ratchet cranking up tension in the
audience, as well as Kipps the woman in black is seen on the stairs
which allows here black clothes to be silhouetted and only her gaunt
white features visible to the audience.

Equally important I the play as the effect of light was that of sound.
The invisible character of the sound man allowed the use of sound
affects which now would seem corny to fit into the nature of a
Victorian theatre. The reason the sound worked was mainly due to the
fact that it was only ever used in context and were it definitely
added to the play. The background sound really drew the audience into
the scene from the harsh rattling of the pony and trap to the warm
conversation in the bar. It was especially effective for indicating
the presence of objects hidden in swirling mist or supernatural
noises. This was particularly the case in the scene were the young
Kipps is lost in the sea mists and he hears a pony and trap coming
towards him, however neither he or the audience can see it and the
fear that it will pass right by him builds the tension so that when
the sound of a crash is heard the audience is horrified rather than
slightly scared. Obviously the most important use of sound was the
scream of the woman in black, at the moments of highest tension in the
play the bloodcurdling cry shattered the atmosphere and I can honestly
say it was scarier than any film or televised horror I have ever
witnessed and is a classic example of how only through theatre can a
writer truly stimulate raw emotion. The real thing that made these
screams so perfect were the pauses of absolute silence before and
after in which one could have cut the atmosphere with a knife and the
audience was so absorbed in the moment that not even a gasp was heard.

Costume was simple with slight changes. The rack to one side of the
stage was hung with a coat a hat and a scarf. My favourite use of
costume was perhaps the smallest in the play, the real Mr Kipps when
playing the employer of Mr Kipps (actor) simply by using subtle
mannerisms and wearing his wiry spectacles on the tip of his nose like
a man who looks down even on those taller than himself. The scarf and
coat were donned prior to journeys to and from the house, this gave
itself well to the idea of the bleak cold desolate marshes with their
sea mists. The character costumes were each well thought out, the
actor was dressed theatrically in trousers braces and smart jacket. Mr
Kipps dressed in a grey worn suit which enhances his lack of self
confidence. However the most impressive costume by far is that of the
woman in black. Dressed entirely in a black Victorian high necked
dress, a bonnet covered the head and face except from front on and the
face a ghastly drawn white complexion with sunken eye sockets and
weathered skin. A truly terrifying character without being overdone.
The black clothing allowed her to move around the stage and appear
without being noticed. Beneath the bonnet ragged clumpy hair perhaps
pulled from her head in her frustration and despair.

The best acting performance I felt was that of the real Mr Kipps. The
way he started the play on the note of humour with a dull monotone and
then as if by a switch become a man wrought by fear as the solicitor’s
representative in the village. Also not only his ability to play the
multiple roles that were required of his character was impressive he
very clearly changed his characters abilities as the play progressed
from the boring uninspired acting as his own assistant to the amazing
change to his employer as I mentioned earlier almost as if his
character was possessed by the need to tell his story. Through out
each character he played was believable no matter how strange they
were. The younger actor playing Actor was also impressive, however he
made several mistakes on lines, although he played the articulate
confident actor very well and his character was as stereotypical as it
could have been without seeming ridiculous. His cocked eyebrow and
powerful stance hinted at a feeling of slight superiority.

One of the most effective moments in the play was when the woman in
black is seen rocking in her chair behind the gauze, manic music
playing in the background, her hair messy fixated on a vision within
her mind a woman destroyed by grief she suddenly mid rock runs off the
stage. This was not so much a scary moment as a disturbing one
especially affective I thought was the way in which she rocked
violently even though her gaze never moved. Another ingenious piece of
theatre.

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