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The Woman In Black

December 14, 2013

WomaninBlack1Event: The Woman in Black
Venue: Kallang Theatre
Run: 11th – 15th Dec 2013

Baby’s In Black And I’m Feeling Blue

First staged in London’s West End in 1989, “The Woman in Black” is now the second-longest non-musical play in the history of West End, which is saying a lot. (The longest-running one being, of course, “The Mousetrap”.)

The play features just two actors – with Arthur Kipps being played by Robin Herford (who, incidentally, was the director of the original West End production), and The Actor being played by Antony Eden.

The story tells of a junior solicitor Arthur Kipps and how he is tasked to make a trip from London down to the small town of Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of one of his company’s clients, Mrs Alice Drablow.

It is at this small town where he starts to see a mysterious woman in black with a dreadful, wasted face, and as the story progresses, he continues to encounter this woman at the most unexpected moments, and he eventually finds out the horrendous secret to this bizarre and tragic mystery.

Although this stage play is based on a 1983 book of the same name written by Susan Hill, it cleverly adds a whole new dimension to the story by introducing the element of a play within a play, whereby the younger actor assumes the role of Arthur Kipps while Arthur Kipps himself dons the role of the other incidental characters.

The idea is that the older Arthur Kipps has a horrific personal story to tell, and seeks the help of The Actor to help him convey this personal tale to an audience which he is most eager to share with.

There is a completely logical and ingenious reason for adding this play within a play element to the stage version, for reasons which I am unable to disclose as it would obviously spoil the surprise at the end.

The play’s first act is slightly laborious as it slowly lays out the backdrop and traces Arthur Kipps’s gradual journey to the Drablow mansion, but it is in the second act where things get into full swing and the bulk of the thrills occur.

“The Woman in Black” is, in my humble opinion, easily the most frightening stage play I have experienced, thanks to a myriad of factors such as exquisite scriptwriting, the slow but steady building up of tension, exceedingly loud shrieking sounds when you least expect them, and of course, the woman in black herself.

This was my third time viewing it after catching it twice before in London, but it still never fails to send a chill down my spine.

Robin Herford and Antony Eden are actors of the highest calibre, as is demanded from a play such as this, and Robin especially exhibits great versatility in the way he eases in and out of various characters with consummate ease and authenticity.

The only criticism I have, however, is that the expanse of the Kallang Theatre did not help the show’s cause, as it made the play lose the sense of intimacy which is so vital in maintaining a keen sense of tension and trepidation throughout the play.

I perfectly understand the commercial reasons for staging the play at the Kallang Theatre, but I personally felt that the play would have worked so much better had it been staged at the Jubilee Hall or the DBS Arts Centre, because of the acoustics and mid-sized ambience of these two venues.

Nonetheless, this did not seem to deter audiences as it was a virtual full-house at the Kallang Theatre on opening night, and my guess is that the play probably sold very well throughout its five-day run.

If you’ve never watched “The Woman in Black” before, I would highly recommend you take the opportunity to do so the next time it comes to town, or if you happen to visit the West End, because this is probably as scary as it is ever going to get inside a theatre.

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