Friday, 26 July 2013
Theatre Review: The Woman In Black
Fact. Old fashioned ghost stories are few and far between these days, and haunted house junkies are often forced to reach for well-thumbed blasts from the past in order to get a regular fright-filled fix. Stories by M.R. James, Shirley Jackson and Peter Straub have kept me awake on many occasions during the wee small hours, and I'd nominate Susan Hill as my current chairperson of the 'Sleep Deprivation Society'. THE WOMAN IN BLACK is an atmospheric chiller that never fails to unnerve me, demonstrating the written word can often be as powerful as the moving image. This terrifying story centres on a young solicitor named Arthur Kipps, who is instructed to attend the funeral of one Alice Drablow. Kipps takes the train to the town of Crythin Gifford, intending to carry out a speedy appraisal of her private papers and return to his London firm with all relevant documents.
Lindsay does relinquish his Kips character fairly early in the play, and treats us to colorful interpretations of some pretty sedate literary characters: Drablow's financial agent (Mr. Jerome), a wealthy landowner (Samuel Daily) and the valiant Keckwick who knows better than anyone the terrible truth about Eel Marsh House. Susan Hill's creations are all present and correct, and I roared with laughter at Lindsay's portrayal of, sniff, Tomes the clerk. While Lindsay is busy livening up the population of Crythin, Targett puts himself in Arthur Kipps' shoes, giving a lively performance that never falters. There are times when his exuberance enters the realms of over-acting but his enthusiasm was so contagious, it was hard not to get carried along with him. So far, I've name checked most of the cast and crew but what about you-know-who? Did The Woman In Black appear? Well, I hate to break it to you but Lindsay and Targett were the only actors in this production, and a quick perusal of the programme and front-of-house-stills confirmed this. It seemed that the ghostly lady is confined to the pages of Hill's novel, though I could have sworn that on 3 occasions I saw....... maybe not. Maybe I should put it down to over-imagination. It was that kind of night.
n 1989, the ITV channel screened a television production of THE WOMAN IN BLACK on Christmas Eve. This television drama was directed by Herbert Wise, and Nigel Kneale adapted the story from Hill's novel. On (admittedly) a single viewing, I have to say the TV drama didn't really hit the spot for me with perhaps a few changes too many when compared to the book. However, I attended, some years later, a screening of THE STONE TAPE at London's National Film Theatre and Nigel Kneale was on hand to do an enjoyable Q&A and also screen clips from several films. THE WOMAN IN BLACK was one of them and I have to say the clip shown was enough to give me nightmares later that night. Universal now hold the rights to this drama and it seems unlikely the film will be released on DVD anytime soon. It is easy to find copies on Ebay but, as these copies are illegal, I'm sure none of us would even dream of purchasing one.