The Woman In Black

Grand Theatre, Swansea: 28th February 2015
It is a very different take on the story if you saw the film or read the original novel by Susan Hill, due to the framing device, but the core narrative, once in village, shares the same basic narrative structure with fewer characters. In this version Arthur Kipps is, many years after the events, trying to get an actor to perform scenes based on the events to explain what happened to his family. The actor, never named, takes on the role of Arthur and Arthur himself performs all the other roles doing caricatures of the people he met. The action takes place in the theatre, the actual one you are sat in watching the play in, during the early 1950s.

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The stage layout is seperated into 3 sections as if to create a sense that the further back the scenery is from the front of stage, and each seperated by a thin veil of cloth backlit when in use, the more influenced by the woman in black’s haunting it is:

The Woman In Black Stage

The foreground where all of the ‘inside this theatre’ events take place and many of the scenes outside the house along with steps off the stage where a few ‘off in the distance’ moments occur though you will not miss anything should you be in the upper circle as I was. At the front section during the start, on the right side of the stage, is a grey curtain obscuring the ‘locked door’ which comes into use later and presumably is an unmoveable piece of scenery. The wicker basket is central and a single light chair is next to it. Later a heavier leather upholstered chair is used for the office scene and other parts. On the left of the stage is a clothes rail on which the coats, scarves, etc are hung in preparation for Arthur to grab them to use to visually represent each of the figures he caricatures during the events of the story. Again on the left is the ‘stage door’ through which they enter and exit the stage usually.

The second layer, hidden behind a thin semi-opaque curtain, represents the interior of the house and the bedroom. Strong lights are shone forward from off stage so you are able to see though it though, as far as I remember, this veil is never removed. The rocking chair, bed and cupboard are covered by dust clothes during most scenes to represent different rooms of the house which have been stored away after the abandonment of the house. Of course for anyone familiar with the story the empty rocking chair moving by itself is one of the pivotal moments in the narrative and it doesn’t fail to impress though it is a simple traditional stage effect. The cupboard is filled with old fashioned children’s toys, as it is the nursery, although for those familiar with the film the toys do not play a significant role unlike the automatons of the film (although I think one does go off suddenly at one point). The bed is a bed so there is nothing to add except it is dishevelled at one point but properly made in another scene.

At the third layer are stairs, behind archways, for some of the pivotal scenes and a large brightly lit cross which is used when Arthur and his companion enter a church and we first meet the woman in black who is shrouded almost completely in the dark. These are visually very impressive props in what is otherwise quite a minimalist staging design.

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They use a lot of improvised items, especially a large wicker basket as a table, desk, bed and [horse and] trap. If you don’t have a bit of an imagination and need things to be literally presented to you it’s probably not going to be satisfying. This play is in the nein of M. R. James’ ghost stories and you should go to it with that in mind: you are being told a ghost story not shown it.

The role of Arthur Kipps was performed by Malcolm James and the role of ‘the actor’ is performed by Matt Connor. The person who plays the woman in black is not named and during the curtain call shows up in the far background once the other two actors have taken a few bows. If anything the woman in black running around seems a bit comical due to the period dress she is wearing. Also an imaginary dog plays a significant role during the play and in many ways it is a light hearted fun performance and should be enjoyed as such.

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It was really enjoyable but unfortunately Swansea Grand had the ‘day out’ crowd who were there having a chat even after being told repeatedly it’s a quiet play and they need to avoid making noise as much as possible. When it started, and even though the ushers brought popcorn buckets and asked people to unwrap their sweets before the show as it was very quiet, there were still a lot who ignored this thus making many of the opening lines illegible. The play starts with Arthur Kipps doing a very quiet, intentionally bad, reading of his account before the actor tells him to be more theatrical. Also later when there were any ‘jump scares’ people felt the need to have a chat about it each and every time “Ohh that made me jump!” … no really? You would think that was the entire point…

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It’s a great show. If you go to the theatre or have an appreciation of it there are a lot of fun moments. If you want a traditional ghost story its good and in the vein of M. R. James’ works. It has some really nice visuals like the church scene when the woman in black first appears and a very good, economical, use of staging to maximise its effects.
It would probably scare children and give them a bit to worry about as the woman in black is ‘real’ but for a mature audience it is a fun experience with a few moments of jumping if you are unfamiliar with the narrative.

I don’t think you will miss too much sitting in the upper circle but it would be preferable to be in the stalls if you can do so. Really, it’s sad to say, a lot depends on the audience you have with you at any given performance. If they find the ‘you have to imagine the dog’ part funny then the show can be a fun light hearted affair. If they are collectively in the mood to be absorbed into the telling it can be a fun, mild, traditional, ghost story. However if they are the sort to react to the requirement for imagination with “what? …I have to use my imagination!? what did I pay a ticket for? I could just as well have listened to the radio” sort of crowd you are doomed. They will get ‘bored’ like little school children and resort to laughing as they rustle their sweet wrappers and taking any opportunity to speak during the performance then it will be diminished. I hope to go see this again in the New Theatre, Cardiff one day as I think the play is a fun experience for anyone to go to and for those who perhaps enjoyed pantomimes as a child but don’t want to commit to ‘serious’ theatre like Arthur Miller’s ‘A View From The Bridge’ it is an easy going, simple, introduction to theatregoing which won’t alienate any children who they may bring along.

http://thewomaninblack.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Woman_in_Black_%28play%29


I wish there were more shows like this. It was a lot of fun.

Next time hopefully I will be able to type up about ‘A View From The Bridge’.

It may be a few days or even on the weekend. These things take a bit longer than the usually-made-up-on-the-spot vignette pieces.

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Movie Reviews: Short reviews of films that have been on television recently

So over the holiday season I have watched a few films on television. Some of them are well known and some are not. Don’t expect anything in depth as these are purely brief opinion pieces i.e. I have nothing better to post right now.


Up (2009)

Was you favourite part when there is the non-dialogue musical section about Carl and Ellie’s married life together growing old, suffering the news they cannot have children and her passing away? Was it the bit when they reprise the ‘Married Life’ musical piece as Carl opens the adventure book and finds Ellie left him one last message thanking him for all the adventures and telling him to go have a new one?
No?
You are lying!Those parts were far and away in a totally different league to the rest of the film!
To be honest once they realised the ‘married life’ backstory part worked better with no dialogue they should have just accepted they made something far better than the main part of the film and found a way to do the backstory segment a different way and have the ‘married life’ part be its own small feature. You can like Dug as a character but that is as far as I can allow. Ironically they ruined their own film by making a timeless moment with the ‘married life’ segment which leaves the rest of the film pale in comparison.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_%282009_film%29

The Dark (2006)

AKA Sean Bean and his American wife with their daughter go live in rural Wales where ghosts cause them trouble. It would be a good film if it wasn’t for the fact I know about the Welsh mythology they allude to while mixing it with a heretical chapel community who committed a suicide pact together. Annwn isn’t the odd cold, blue, windy place they depict but a sort of Valhalla without the need to go fighting, a world of delights and eternal youth where disease was absent and food was ever-abundant. A film of tepid Welsh caricatures and tepid supernatural thriller. It’s okay to watch if you are unfamiliar with Welsh mythology but otherwise it seems very poorly intended despite being based on a novel… a novel called ‘Sheep’… because… you know… Wales… Sheep… Stereotypes. I have watched it a few times thinking maybe I have missed something as they leave any spoken Welsh untranslated at the start but no… no apparently it’s just not that well thought out.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dark_%28film%29

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)
Excellent fun adventure film and enjoy it whenever I see it. The motion capture is well done though the faces are in that strange uncanny valley area of features. It amalgamates a few Tintin stories to make its own thing. I would have liked it if they had stayed true to Herge’s original ‘dot eye’ look personally. Andy Serkis as ever proves he is the go to man for ‘ink suit’ acting. I wish they had made a sequel so we could see Professor Calculus. Thompson and Thomson steal every scene they are in due to Pegg and Frost. Admittedly the albums/graphic novels have more space to develop the storylines.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Tintin_%28film%29

Hunky Dory (2011/2012)
Set in Swansea. So yes Minnie Driver ‘acting Welsh’ and seeing actors still doing the rounds on Welsh Language television and SkyOne’s Stella is odd. A 1976 comprehensive school does a version of Shakespeare’s Tempest with David Bowie music following the trials and tribulations of all involved. It is a period drama piece and I wasn’t fussed on it. Then again I have a very awkward response to Welsh period drama set in the late twentieth century but it did come across as quite flat despite flashes of potential occasionally. The director also did ‘Patagonia’.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunky_Dory_%28film%29

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012)
I had wanted to see this for a while but never got around to it. A very fun anachronistic film I would happily see again. It is a stop motion film done by Aardman animation so you know its good stuff and you won’t catch every bit of humour in a scene the first time you watch it. Queen Victoria steals the film as far as I am concerned although all the characters are well done. Apparently based on the first of a series of books so it would be nice to think one day they will go on and adapt others from the series. I would actually go out of my way to see it again if it comes on television again soon it was that enjoyable.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pirates!_In_an_Adventure_with_Scientists!

The Wolverine (2013)
A film that didn’t need to be made. More to the point it ends with some things unresolved like his adamantium claws being sliced off but I’m guessing by ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ this is never addressed how they became adamantium laced again… They hired a slightly less attractive actress to make the love interest actress look better in comparison. The ‘bow and arrow’ guy I was never clear if he was meant to be Mariko’s dedicated protector or a loyal servant of the family and thus more of an anti-hero. He was eye candy for the ladies so I guess it doesn’t matter. The reveal of who the silver samurai is isn’t a surprise although the de-aging bit was silly. Dr Green is just a very odd ‘obvious villain’ character who is never really given any characterisation beyond ‘obviously evil’. In fact no one gets much to work with in this film in terms of their characters and it shows. I will never willingly watch this film again unless I need to sleep.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wolverine_%28film%29

Puss In Boots (2011)
Puss In Boots stars in a film with humour on the level of Shrek the Third. It’s fun but unfortunately Shrek 2 kind of ruined it for the later films due to its multifaceted cultural references giving adults and children an equally enjoyable film and expecting the later ones to follow suit. Humpty Dumpty I wasn’t too sure about but in the end I think he was a very good character albeit the ‘he was a golden egg/good egg all along’ part was a bit too contrived. There is a lot of Mexican/Spanish style music and it really keeps the film at a strong energetic tempo. Also just after this they showed the short ‘The Three Diablos’ which was okay but should have either been a bit longer or tightened up a bit as it felt a bit ungainly in its story progression.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puss_in_Boots_%282011_film%29

Men In Black III (2012)
As good as the first one if not a little better in some respects depending on what you like. Josh Brolin does a brilliant impression of Tommy Lee Jones playing the younger version of the character. Emma Thompson and Jermaine Clement are both excellent and should have been in the film more. However Griffin, played by Micheal Stuhlbarg, steals every scene he is in. The inclusion of interesting alien characters was what was missing from the second film where they confused ‘weird and a set up for some puns’ with interesting as you actually care what happens to the characters here. I wouldn’t mind seeing this on television again one day.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men_in_Black_3

Nativity! (2009)
As a stand-alone film this would have been a cheap and cheerful bit of fluff quickly forgotten. How it has had sequels I have no idea as there only seemed enough there to just barely make one film let alone more. It was okay to watch once but I will never watch it again even if there is nothing else on.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nativity!_%28film%29

Mary Poppins (1964)
Classic film. Dick Van Dyke and his dodgy cockney accent. Good stuff. Tarnished in my mind by ‘Saving Mr Banks’ and knowing P. L. Travers wasn’t happy with what they did with her character. It is never nice to find the original creator is unhappy with an adaption of their work. Personally I think they should take a view that it is an adaption and doesn’t change their own work but as we all know sometimes, if not more often, it is the adaptions people know and not the original upon which they are based.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Poppins_%28film%29

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
A film for those who would like something like Mary Poppins but don’t want to watch Mary Poppins again i.e. Disney live action mixed with ‘in animation land’ sequences. I never really ‘got’ this one personally. I think because the character basically go running around stealing a king’s pendant and having an element of ‘the protagonists are in the right always’ even when being thieves. Also the setting lends itself to ‘stiff upper lip’ English stereotypes which when the film was made in 1964 must have already seemed a very old fashioned idea already. I think this was one of the films in my childhood that made me always identify with the villain rather than the protagonists. Also the villain is named Astaroth just like the demon which I found surprising in a Disney film considering that in Fantasia they changed the name of the devil/Lucifer in the ‘Night On Bald Mountain’ section to that of the ancient Slavic mythological deity Chernobog… because… you know… Eastern Europe = Communism.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedknobs_and_Broomsticks

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)
DC animation film. It’s basically about Super-girl arriving on earth, being trained by Wonder Woman, kidnapped and brainwashed by Darkseid and then returned home. They obviously didn’t think people would buy it if they admitted that. It’s okay but quite generically comic book story wise. Watch it once if you are interested but there is nothing there to draw you back ever again. A very generic comic book story… in fact shockingly so to the point you could imagine it being a satire. The one good bit is when they think everything is resolved then Darkseid appears out of Ma and Pa Kent’s house and there is a massive battle. In the aftermath Ma and Pa return to find their home decimated and Clark introduces his cousin. I’ve ruined the best bit but to honest it was quite boring even if it was only about an hour long.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman/Batman:_Apocalypse

Megamind (2010)
Dreamworks always tend to be a very hit or miss affair with more ‘fails’ than successes in my mind. Megamind is one of the few I feel actually works as it stays true to its subverting of superhero films although it brings nothing new to the table. There is good interaction between the characters and I feel that they could easily have made some interesting continuations with the story if they had wanted. I always think it is George Clooney and not Brad Pitt doing Metro-Man’s voice. Jonah Hill voices Hal Stewart/Tighten and ironically life imitates art is seems as he has more and more come across like an asshole in recent times with his ‘suck my dick faggot’ comment amongst other things.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megamind

Конец Санкт-Петербурга (Konets Sankt-Peterburga) / The End Of St. Petersburg (1927)
Silent black and White film made to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. Worth watching, very intense visuals and performances. As a film made during the early Soviet era about a key period in its beginnings it is of course propagandist but you should check it out if you have even a passing interesting in the history or cinema.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_St._Petersburg

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
AKA the one where Bond marries at the end and she gets gunned down in a drive by shooting by Blofeld and his henchwoman. If nothing else that makes sure I could never think of this as ‘the bad Bond film’ as many insisted it was for years due to George Lazenby being the ‘Milk Tray’ man. The death however is foreshadowed far too heavily by how many times they said the phrase ‘we have all the time in the world’ even to the point of having it as the last line in the film but mostly its reiterated by how often the song reoccurred during the film. There’s a room of women from different nations as Blofeld’s ‘angels of death’. This was the ‘worst’ Bond film apparently for a long time but I actually enjoyed it albeit there are far better ones but if you take this one with a pinch of salt it is really enjoyable and at least breaks the mould of the 007 series up a bit as it’s not as by the book as some others. For me personally Quantum of Solace is the worst one.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Her_Majesty%27s_Secret_Service_%28film%29

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiana_Jones_and_the_Kingdom_of_the_Crystal_Skull

Basically its a rehash of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The villains who are generic villains but this time Soviet Communists instead of Nazis are after a mythological item… lots of call backs… Cate Blanhett doing a hammy Hollywood Ukranian accent… substitute Nazi occultism for Soviet ESP experimentation… adventures… rocket cart… survive nuclear blast in a fridge… strongman villain with little no dialogue killed in a gruesome way… someone talking in riddles… treacherous colleagues… fantastical resolution EXCEPT THIS TIME IT WAS ALIENS NOT MAGIC! …as M Night Shamalan would say ‘What a twist!’…or to be correct as Ox says in the denoument they are interdimensional beings not ‘alien’ aliens so yet a further twist! ‘knowledge was their treasure’ they conclude in the end… I hope you feel the same way now you’ve read these mini reviews.


So the next two posts will be regarding films I have on DVD. They will hopefully be uploaded later this week… hopefully.
O slavnosti a hostech / A Report on the Party and the Guests / The Party and The Guests. (1966) Czech
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Report_on_the_Party_and_the_Guests

Pociąg / Night Train / Baltic Express (1959) Polish
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Train_%281959_film%29