Skip to main content

Review of The Woman In Black at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

I was struck by two surprising things at the start of the production of The Woman In Black, the first before the play had begun. This was the staggering slope on display on the set. I was aware of the raking (technical term!) of the Royal stage, but gosh surely this was in a different league. No pieces with wheels on most certainly! The second was in the very early stages of the play. I had never seen the play before and had the belief that this was a deadly serious, creepy ghost story. How wrong I was, with the initial setting of the story via a clever planned stage production, this was actually also a very funny play.

Telling the story of Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James) and his wish to relay his shocking and disturbing tale for an assembled crowd, he seeks the help of a theatre actor (played by Matt Connor) and who remains only known as "The Actor". Much humour early in the play is garnered from Kipps' inability to perform his story for the, as yet, absent audience, and latterly in their ability to stage certain parts of the production, in particular a certain Spider. However much of this I will not comment on further, so as not to spoil any enjoyment for those that have yet to see the production.

As the only actors throughout, James and Connor are superb. James hugely effective as the witness to the horror and reluctant actor, who "The Actor" will make an Irving if it kills him. From the early parts and leading into that splendid glasses moment, James really is a joy and over the two hours we see him grow into the role and indeed suffer the horror of his tale anew. His depiction of the various characters and their highly distinctive accents is lovely and truly enjoyable to watch.

If possible, Connor is even better, having the bulk of the lines (and in a two hander, that is truly a bulk), he is virtually never from the stage and never misses a beat. Switching effortlessly between his characters and making them distinct from one another. The pair also are excellent stage managers as all set moves are created sublimely on stage by them (sometimes in darkness) with no other cast or stage hands present (or never visibly so), therefore never breaking from the atmosphere of the piece. I say no one else is present, but maybe there is someone, or something...

I always give the impression that I am going to scream like a little girl at frightening things, but I haven't really very often and if I am honest I didn't during The Woman In Black. That is not to say that it is not atmospheric and creepy, especially judging by some of the reactions around me anyway. Hysterical screams, high murmurings of "Oh Jesus" amongst others, the crowd were certainly disturbed. The moment I found the most unsettling was the mist scene, as the mist headed towards me in the dark and glorious Royal, it truly was a touch unsettling. This was one of several neat tricks used throughout the production, those of which I will refrain from spoiling, suffice to say that clever use of light and sound, did evoke moments of true eeriness.

Combined, designer Michael Holt, lighting Kevin Sleep and sound Gareth Owen have created a heady combination of effects under the guidance of director Robin Herford to bring the late Stephen Mallatratt's play (from the Susan Hill novel) vividly to the stage. A glorious and creepy night out that will have more than your chair rocking by the end.

««««

Performance viewed: Monday 10th November, 2014 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal).

The Woman In Black is at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 15th, 2014 and on tour until 4th July, 2015 and in London at The Fortune Theatre. For full details visit the website at http://www.thewomaninblack.com/

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review of A Passage to India at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Creating the world of E. M. Forster's A Passage to India for the stage and into a little over two hours running time offers many challenges, not least creating the visual world of India. However, this co-production between Royal & Derngate and simple8 throw away any need for complex sets, and bring the world of India, including some of its wildlife to life via boxes and bamboo canes. The success of this is really quite amazing as perhaps the crowning moment of the elephant brings home the most. Simple8 is an award-winning ensemble group and the way they work together to get their characters travelling through the world of India explains why they have received the awards.

A Passage to India is a 1924 novel telling of Britain's generally unpleasant rule in India and takes as its story an encounter between the elderly Mrs Moore (Liz Crowther), Adela (Phoebe Pryce), who is keen to see the real India, and Dr Aziz (Asif Khan). While their meetings seem pleasant, to begin with, e…

Review of The Flint Street Nativity, performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Maidwell Hall (Avenue Campus), Northampton

The Flint Street Nativity was presented by the BA Actors as part of a double bill with The Night Before Christmas, and you could hardly imagine such a difference in style. Tim Firth's genuinely, quite endearing play was quite the opposite to the rough and vicious Christmas spirit of the previous show.

Flint Street offers the intriguing situation of adult performers acting as children as they present to their audience (and always watched by the unseen, but a creepy red lighted teacher, Mrs Horrocks), their production of the nativity. It forms quite a delight of totally recognisable characters from your school days if you are able to remember that far back.

Among my favourite performances from this are Gemma Fensham as the total brat Gabriel, never seeming to have an expression other than sucking a lemon, as she breezily switches her best friend back and forth with abandon. She rather stylishly perfected the sulking strutting off routine as well, fabulous! Playing up to his size with…

Review of Balm in Gilead, University of Northampton BA Acting (Creative Acting) at Maidwell Hall, Northampton

Watching the production of Balm in Gilead sees my entering the fifth year of following the University of Northampton acting students, and what theatre they have provided over the years!

Balm in Gilead is no less intriguing than anything that has gone before, written in 1965 by Lanford Wilson, you might think this would be a dated item for the young students to be performing, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Set in a cafe (transposed to England from its original American setting), it sees the lives of addicts, homeless and sex workers converge into a mixture of good but mostly bad moments.
My first time in the Maidwell Hall saw an encounter with a brilliantly realised community full of the world of the cafe and the surrounding homes, cardboard boxes and dishevelled beds. As we enter the characters of this world begin living alongside us, addressing us, begging us for money, pushing shopping trolleys around offering off the cuff exchanges with the audience and confronti…