“We’re off to see The Woman in black next week.”
“Oh, so you’re the ones who haven’t seen it yet.”
Thus was the response of a family friend on hearing of the next instalment of the
GBR Occasional Mid-Week Show Review.
First a book, then a
West End play, then a film starring Harry Potter, this has gone through a few incarnations. Its decades long stint on the West End has probably raked in a few bob, and with most locals having now seen it at least once (ourselves excluded of course) the crowd was packed mainly with tourists and school trips.
Which was the first problem. There was at least one lot of drama school teens intent on having their own screaming competition. Even at things not intended to scare. The lights going down at the end of a scene elicited a round of shrieks. An inadvertent shadow on stage prompted a few howls. Each followed by a round of giggles. To their credit, it didn’t seem to affect the actors. But it did me. I found myself transformed into the old, disapproving guy at the front of the bus.
That’s not to say there weren’t moments where screams were justified. The reason Mrs
GBR and I turned up to this in the first place was because most people we’ve spoken with about it said it is one of the scariest things they’ve seen. And there were one or two (ok, I admit it, three) points where my heart raced and I was begging the actors not to go through the doorway.
But (a little like The Ask in fact) this is a play that’s been mis-sold, and possibly over-sold. Yes, it was scary in parts, but it didn’t have the constant fear and tension I was expecting. Hard to create on stage of course. On screen, it’s easier. Close ups, special effects, hurried glimpses - none of it’s available on stage. Instead, they had to rely on the shock factor - the sudden bang and whatnot - which they employed well. But I won’t go around town telling people this is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. Possibly the scariest thing I’ve ever seen on stage, but that bar is set rather low.
The strength of the play for me was more in the chemistry of the characters, and the clever way in which they work the stage and the script. There’s only two actors (not including the Woman in Black herself), and they bounce off each other impressively and with energy.
The structure of the play is novel. Not entirely unique - the idea of watching actors on stage pretending to be actors on another stage is replicated in a few places (like Noises Off) - but it’s fun to watch all the same. There were fairly predictable plot developments, and not really any twists that shake you, but it’s tightly written and convincingly delivered, so it certainly holds your attention and keeps you entertained. If it wasn’t for the school trip screaming competition, I’m sure I wouldn’t have rolled my eyes once.
GBR ratings for the Occasional Mid-Week Show Reviews, but I’d recommend going to see this (if you’re in town and happen to be one of the population not to have seen it yet). It’s a lukewarm recommendation, and be prepared to be annoyed by a school-trip somewhere, but the quality of the acting and the handful of heart racing scares are worth the ticket price.