The Woman in Black Review Essay
The Woman in Black Review
Upon the arrival in London my anticipation was high. My first impression of the Fortune Theatre was; it was a very old Victorian building, very small and slightly ragged. Upon entering it felt very cramped and made you feel claustrophobic. The atmosphere was eerie due to the old style of the building. This was particularly effective as the play was set in the Victorian period. This made you feel as if you were in the past. Also the narrow staircase and small seating area created effect. Before the play starts there is no background music played to set a scene or image in the audiences mind.
The play starts without warning and lights go down and we are straight into the story. The play is set in a theatre and the audience see the actors rehearsing a manuscript to an empty crowd. At first the older actor was reading his story as if he was an appalling actor. This technique used was effective and gave some comic relief at the start of the play. He mumbled his words without emotion which was in total contrast to the younger actor. The younger actor was very articulate and pronounced his words properly, both characters spoke with posh accents. By doing this it lulled the audience in to an almost false sense of security.
Fans blew into the theatre to make the ambience cold and chilling. Diagram of the Stage The audience were seated in front of the stage. This was so the whole audience would all see the play in the same way. Also this would ensure the woman in black wouldn’t be able to be spotted. The set was open and most things on the stage were shown. There was a clothes rack which was covered, a wicker basket which was closed and some metal buckets. There was a door which was shut but we did not know to where it would lead. However during the play we discovered a whole new dimension to the stage.
Behind a gauze there was another part of the stage. If this had been shown some of the creative element would have been lost as we wouldn’t be surprised to see it. Also the fact the only time the audience saw the back of the stage was when the actors themselves were present there. This would link the audience to the actor and heighten the personal bond. Spotlights were used a lot in this production. It persuaded the audience to focus on one area of the stage. It also gave a creepy effect, as you could not see the whole of the stage, therefore you would not know what was happening in the black spots.
Images were also shone on to a translucent curtain showing at the position of the actors. This included a crucifix. This was effective as it was a very overpowering image, which embraces the audience as it is the first scary moment of the play. The other image was of the house in which the Woman in Black haunts. It gives you a mental representation of what the building would look like. Upon seeing this building, it was obvious a catastrophe was immanent. The lighting also represented where they were. For instance the actors were on a train and the windows of another train passed.
This made you jump and started a continuous pattern of many frights to come. Sometimes the lack of lighting built up the atmosphere. At one time the stage was dark until the actor lit a match which illuminated his face. The effect of this was astonishing, such a simple thing as a match built up the scene immediately. The match was very effective because it was less bright than a spotlight and would not show off the surroundings. A torch was also used in the same way as the match but was just as effective as it showed a specific area. After seeing this used I realised how effective low light can be to create suspense and confusion.
Sometimes the light came as a relief for the audience. In the first half of the play whenever there was a scary part normal lighting would come in to effect and give the audience relief from the intenseness. This almost gave the audience a false sense of security. The most effective use of the lighting was the way in which the Woman in Black’s face was bright white and prominent. The audience never quite managed to see the full complexion of her face as she was not still for long. However it showed enough to keep the audience intrigued and for them to know it was a ghost.
The darkness created a spooky air about a scene but there was music to accompany it. Recorded sound was also used in this play. In the same way as lighting it set the scene and emulated a climax. For instance it was used to create a scene in an office by the ticking of a clock. The main way sound was used was to build up a climax. A recorded sound of a rocking chair would always represent a terrifying image about to appear; the Woman in Black. We would associate sounds to images. It was an almost psychotic repetitive noise, which at first time of hearing may not have been distinguished as anything important.
Another petrifying noise was an ear piercing, frightful scream. It sounded like it was made by someone in the utmost agonising pain who had gone insane with rage. It most certainly made the audience jump as it was played very loudly at an unexpected moment. However I considered it to be more than just a short fright. The sound was very disturbing. The way in which it died out gently also made you wonder what the person making it was feeling. It conjured up an image of someone who could not cope with what was happening to them. They let all the rage out in one long blast. It was played a number of times, each very chilling.
It did not lose the effect, as it was played unexpectedly each time, thus you heard it in another situation and dimension. The other main recording was of a horse and trap coming slowly to a halt and then crashing. This is played at the end of the play and is a backbone to the plot. It is an equally disturbing noise not one you would chose to listen to regularly. This was also used to show an image you could not see and would put that picture vividly into your mind. After the crash it was followed by a dampened scream (slightly less potent than the previous, but equally as disturbing!
). The lighting and sound contributed immensely to the play. Without the immaculate and synchronized use of sound and lighting the plays ferocity (it has in copious amounts) would be lost, no matter how good the actors were. The attire used by the actors was very Victorian. They wore waistcoats and suits, making themselves look respectable. The older man would change clothes which also changed his character. This technique was effective as there were only two main actors. I saw this skill used in another play “Stones in His Pockets” which consisted of only two actors.
The Woman in Black wore a black cloak with a bonnet to cover a lot of her face and hair. Her long cloak covered her feet most of the time giving the impression that she floated instead of walking. Accompanied by the sound and lighting was the immensely impressive acting. The younger actor gave a solid performance in his role of an actor. However many of his facial expressions were very modern and contemporary, these would not have been used in the Victorian times. Sometimes also his diction sounded very forced in comparison to the older man who had a very calm and constant accent.
The older actor’s accent sounded like it was his own normal voice and was how he spoke. One of the younger actor’s most elaborate and perfect factors was his frustration when he was playing the older actor when he was young. This made you forget he was acting and made the audience accept as true the fact that he was the older actor when he was young and not actually acting him. Both actors were extremely talented, the older man was flawless. His overall performance as all the characters was outstanding. I enjoyed how he got into his first role when he puts on his glasses.
The gradual transition is very effective and amusing. His acting in natural situations was actually completely natural, which made everything believable. One of my favoured characters of his was the driver Ketwick. This was very well done and brought some comic relief to the play. As in many of his characters he used his hands a lot to express himself. A very good example of this was at the end when the younger actor congratulates him on bringing a woman. The older man reacts as if he doesn’t know what he is talking about. This was not strained nor was it milked, they spent just enough time to put across to the audience.
A subtle sign of his perfection was the whole way through the play he never looks at the Woman in Black making the end believable. However an important role has been missed out. The Woman in Black is easy to forget as an actor and could be overshadowed by the other actors and also you think of her as an actual ghost. Her facial expressions were stern and ferocious. The audience could see the fury in her eyes. She walked concisely and smoothly almost floating. Yet at one point she ran which was petrifying, as you did not know where she was going to end up.
Her facial expressions were good, a little more frightening effect could have been gained if her face was more cadaver like. Nevertheless it was clever of the director to not include her in the program and not for her to take a bow. This made you constantly scared of her, as you do not think of her as a real person. After saying how effective sound was in this play I think the lack of it was more effective. The long silences followed by a noise or person would always make you jump. The silences would always build the suspense and get you ready for something bad to happen.
After the loud, unexpected sounds there were many long pauses, which added to the sinister atmosphere. In my opinion this was the most effective use of sound. By the end of the play there was still a disturbing ambience as I walked away. I had thoroughly enjoyed the play and was suitably scared. Any more and I may not have been able to sleep. I took away many aspects of acting, which could be useful in the future. The use of silence and torches in the darkness were some of my favourites. The play was enjoyable and funny but also terrorizing. One of the most amusing parts was the dog spider scene.
This was hard to act as they were pretending there was a dog but it was done with the utmost ease. It was funny how the older man kicked the dog saying “it does what I say”. If I was a critic for a magazine my short caption would read; “The Woman in Black” is a play with a distressing plot, of ghastly ghostly terror. Set in the Victorian times it sends a feeling of emptiness and solitude through you, nevertheless an obvious first choice for taking the young ones to see, to appreciate and learn from the immaculate actors and use of stage crew!
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 5 July 2017
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