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.

Short Movie Reviews: February 2015

Evil Dead (2013)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil_Dead_%282013_film%29

An interesting, but ultimately flawed, attempt to recreate something without understanding what made the originals classics of the horror genre. Directed by Fede Alvarez. It is a modern horror remake of a classic of the genre so it was always going to be difficult for it to stand on its own without severe scrutiny. Guess my reaction. As with all these remakes the original caught the zeitgeist of some aspect of society’s fears. Rosemary’s Baby did it when fears about Satanism were prevalent due to media scares (even the nice old couple next door could be part of a cult), Halloween did it when fear of serial killers in middle America’s suburban ‘white picket fence’ communities was commonplace due to more media scares (if someone goes on a killing spree you won’t be able to stop them) and ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ raised fear of how powerless adults were to prevent paedophile access to their children after even more media scares (the murders being in the children’s dreams and caused by a hidden shame). Ultimately this makes me thing the next successful horror series will be about Russian radical Islamist (Chechen?) immigrant terrorists if the media scare trend is anything to go by…

The original Evil Dead was grittier, darker and more bleak than many of its contemporaries (except of course Texas Chainsaw Massacre) but the series is of course best known for Evil Dead 2 (basically the same story but with black humour) and Army of Darkness (basically a comedy adventure with horror elements). The message troughout the series overall was to revel in the absurdity of the situation which had a decidedly H P Lovecraft perspective in how there is little, if anything, you can do to fight it – except of course Ash, an everyman action hero, is placed into the scenario and thus disrupts the usual fatalist tone such stories undergo by their end.

The remake removes this figure we vie for and identify with yet retains, if not embellishes, the ‘tree rape’ scene Sam Raimi has always said he regrets. If anything the sequel is perhaps more influenced by Lovecraft’s tone of fatalism but in having over the top gore it also undermines itself. The trailers, especially the red band ones, gave away everything, and I mean everything, interesting about the film and so it was more a ‘tick the boxes’ process than something to enjoy. The only thing I can say is that applying gender studies to the film we find instead of Ash’s phallic chainsaw finale we get the gynocidal fountains of blood as Mia wrenchs her own arm off unrealistically as she was pinned under the upturned vehicle and she cleaves the demon in twain. I am not sure if the demon was meant to look like her or the girl from the introduction sequence. I swear during the introduction sequence burning the old woman is speaking Welsh. The final scene is just red on red and its hard to distinguish anything really. It’s as if the saw Kubrick’s adaption of The Shining and thoguht the elevator scene needed to be used in other scenarios.

Where the original series was in the tone of the grand guignol, leaving the audience entertained and satisfied, the remake is merely plodding scenes, impressive in their imagery but fatally flawed in their setup, where we just wait to see who survives if anyone and feel a loss of nostalgia when the stinger closes at the end of the credits with Ash speaking the phrase ‘Groovy’. Well made but not something you will bother seeing again.

The Woman In Black (2012)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Woman_in_Black_%282012_film%29

A Classic ghost story masterfully told. It is directed by James Watkins, the screenplay is by Jane Goldman and is based on Susan Hill’s novel of the same name. It is made by Hammer and is a fantastic addition to their back catalogue. A classic ghost story which relies more on its atmosphere than on jump scares (though it uses a few and this is one of the few situations where they are vindicated). Daniel Radcliffe gives a fantastic performance proving he is more than capable of emerging from out of the shadow his role as Harry Potter risked overshadowing his skill. The terribly airbrushed cover photo they insist on using for the posters and DVD cover really doesn’t do this film justice. Hopefully one day they will revisit the marketing and create a more fitting image.

The cinematography is fantastic and it really shows the passion everyone involved had for the project. I have the DVD and the commentary is admittedly quite dull though they do note a few things you may miss and give some details about where they acquired the automatons from. The other extras are nice additions including Radcliffe reading the winner of a ghost story writing competition.

The Rambler (2013)

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

Jacob’s Ladder occurring during a road movie directed by Calvin Reeder. I have the DVD which is very bare bones to the point it doesn’t even have subtitles. Either you will love it or hate it. It is not a film that will explain itself to you.

Think of Lynch or Croenburg during the 1980s and you have a good measure of what to expect. It is something you probably won’t fully appreciate on one viewing despite the impression you may get. It deserves more love and is a promising start from its director.

Whats Up Doc? (1972)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What%27s_Up,_Doc%3F_%281972_film%29

A screwball comedy directed by Peter Bogdanovich. It is fantastic light hearted fun and did the ‘Manic Pixie Girl’ before that was a thing with the likes of Zooey Deschanel taking on such roles. You can see how Barbara Streisand was the it girl back then.

It is one of the classics of American cinema and easy to follow. It shows how a lot of the ‘screwball comedies’ of recent years don’t quite get that the audience need to like the characters so you can’t just keep having everyone be a sociopathic man child running around causing trouble. Having one in your film works and no doubt they will be a fan favourite but too much exposure is a bad thing in such cases.

The Great Race (1965)

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

A classic directed by Blake Edwards. I didn’t know of it but caught it on TV. Fantastic fun light hearted fun. The comedic villains inspired Dick Dastardly and Muttley of the Wacky Races. Natalie Wood… speaking Russian for a brief moment 😀 Although it is a bit sad that she is meant to be a suffragette styled Gibson girl and ultimately is left running around in her stockings later on. Also yes Peter Falk (Columbo) is Max the henchman. Oddly it should be noted Max influenced Muttley and Columbo influenced Mumbly (similar to Muttley but a detective) so apparently Hanna-Barbara adored Falk…

A really entertaining film with great set pieces and I actually ended up watching it twice over two days and didn’t mind. There need to be more comedic villains like these even if it seems a bit silly by today’s standard. Good honest clean fun.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

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

‘James Bond’d Ocean Adventure’. A James Bond film starring Roger Moore. Features fan favourite henchman Jaws. Barbara Bach is the eye candy this time. This is the one that starts with the ski chase ending in Bond leaping off a cliff and using a Union Jack parachute.

A classic Bond film. What happens? Bond goes around making quips while bedding beautiful women, fighting eccentric villains, going to exotic locales, driving a car that turns into a submarine, drinking expensive drinks. I have no idea it’s a haze… It’s the ‘James Bond and the Ocean Adventure’ entry in the series.

The Wind Rises / Kaze Tachinu (2013)

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

Studio Ghibli so obviously the animation is beyond question in terms of quality. Although it is often said to be a biopic of Jiro Hirokoshi, designer of the ‘zero’ aeroplane which the Japanese used during World War II, it is more based on the fictionalised account in the short story ‘The Wind Has Risen’ by Tatsuo Hori, with a few of Hiro’s characteristics like smoking which Hirokoshi did not share.

A beautiful film, but also one that has an ongoing trace of sadness, throughout it. Hirokoshi achieved his dream of designing a world class aeroplane only to see it used as an instrument of war. As people draw parallels between this film and Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement (but he has said that before so no one believes him) maybe Miyazaki also looks wistfully at the Japnese animation industry he has been so influential in and yet perhaps is not proud of playing his part in establishing.

Moonraker (1979)

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

‘James Bond In Space’. Roger Moore as James Bond and Henchman Jaws appears again. Jaws gets a girl and presumably burns up in re-entry after the camera gives him a happy ending while elsewhere Q makes a double entendre about Band attempting re-entry as he has sex, on the monitoring system watched by military staff, with the Bond girl of the film.

I enjoyed it but it is one of the more ridiculous entries in the series but at least it realises this and has a bit of fun with the idea.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (2010)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_Be_Afraid_of_the_Dark_%282010_film%29

An excellent dark fantasy film. The sort of thing that is rated for older audiences but is the sort of thing which children will enjoy a few sleepless nights over.

Influenced by Arthur Machen and Algenon Blackwood this lends itself more to the traditional style of horror story combined with fables. A classic film which will only gain more of a reputation over time. I just wish thet didnt put Guillemo DelToro’s name all over it as if it was his work alone when he is just producing it…

She’s The Man (2006)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/She%27s_the_Man

An adaption of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night apparently. If you remember how ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ successfully modernised ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ with strong performances from its leads you can just forget that here.

Amanda Byrnes and the insistence on comedy over narrative lead this from bad to worse. Friends of mine, while severely drunk and not knowing what it was, went to see this in cinema when it was released and immediately regretted it. That was a more entertaining and inspiring a story in that one single line than this entire film. It won’t make people seek out Shakespeare’s work nor will anyone remember it as soon as the credits roll.

Balls Of Fury (2007)

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

‘Hey guys I have this crazy idea for a film. Chinese triad death tournament but instead of fighting like in Fists of Fury they play ping pong’ that was the pitch and the reaction was ‘duuuuude pass me the roach before I lose my high’.

It has a few good low brow jokes at the start but quickly runs out of idea. Also Maggie Q’s character goes from hating the lead to being literally clinging onto him with her legs over one scene. I know it is meant to be a parody film but if the parodies fail and the narrative drive fail you are just left watching a car crash. Its a 5 minute sketch dragged out. They should have kept Christopher Walken’s involvement out of the promotions as it is too obvious who the big bad is and so the biggest joke of the film ie the xenophobic blind mentor trained a ‘gwai-lo’ as his best student is completely ruined even before seeing the film. If you want to see a film about ping-pong watch the 2002 Japanese film.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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

Marvel make a feel good team up film with relatively unknown characters and it works. I think James Gunn worked his magic on this and made a fun film even more successful.

I think what works for it, unlike the sequels of the bigger name films, is it doesn’t take itself seriously, we don’t have expectations of the characters and while it’s never going to be on anyone’s top ten of all time films it is a fun ride which often choses to defy conventions without becoming overly involved in its own narrative mythology. It’s a feel good science fiction adventure film and to be honest what with the Star Wars prequels drowning in their inability to be satisfactory let alone good this film is not only welcome but likely to long outlast the films of Marvel’s big name characters.

Kwaidan (1965)

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

Based on 4 stories from Lafcadio Hearn’s collected Japanese ghost stories. No he isn’t a relation of mine sadly. The stories featured are The Black Hair, The Woman of the Snow, Hoichi the Earless and In A Cup of Tea.

A masterpiece of world cinema. Slow pacing to build the tone of the stories and although you could easily read the stories in a few minutes I feel the film really gives such a heightened experience. Thoroughly enjoyable. I for a long time didn’t really find anything to lure me back to Japanese cinema due to the recent pandering to certain audiences and over use of cheap CGI but this reminds me of the calibre they are capable of. The cinematography alone is worth watching this film.

Ai To Mokoto / For Love’s Sake (2012)

Directed by Takashi Miike. He is never scared of mixing it up admittedly. There isn’t a proper Wikipedia page for the film and little English language information online about it. It is based on a 1970s manga.

It parodies various famous Japanese songs and the entire thing plays up on how ridiculous the entire genre of high school love is. Does it faithfully adapt the manga or is it satirising it? I don’t know as the manga has never been translated, officially or by amateurs, so it is anyone’s guess.

It starts out great with a number of impressive scenes and musical numbers but kind of loses itself by the end with the main guy beating up a hoard of Schoolgirl gang members for about 10 minutes. Basically imagine the supercut of the American remake of The Wicker Man where Nicholas Cage goes around punching a community of women in the face endlessly and you can guess what the end of the film began to look like.

The main guy doesn’t love the main girl. She treats him more as a project to improve him from being the working class ruffian he is in comparison to her upper class privileged background. Long story short the film ends with him knifed by a teacher he punched (actually a famous Japanese wrestler in real life) and bleeds out as he goes to the girl. He dies at the end. He hates the upper class and ultimately it’s because of the girls interfering in his life he is on the verge of death and she hugs him thinking he finally loves her back. It reminded me of Memories of Matsuko… a film which to me should be renamed ‘Hey Suicide is Painless Compared to a Tragic Life’. Go watch it. Then tell me you disagree. The trailer for that is a lie…


‘Oh hey just to keep the blog running over with regular updates why don’t I do mini reviews of films I have seen recently?’

No.

Bad idea. It actually took longer than some of the more considered posts. Not that I consider them for more than a day or two and those ones are obvious. *cough*ultralongFrozenpost*cough*

Next time it will be another random topic.

Movie Review: Short DVD reviews: Prometheus, The Quiet Ones, The Great Gatsby

I need to keep this blog ticking over but can’t be bothered to type anything until I am off work for Christmas. So here are a few short reviews of the DVDs I watched this weekend. I might one day return and do more full reviews of each of these films eventually.


Prometheus (2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prometheus_%282012_film%29 : Is it a prequel to the Alien series? Highly likely. Is it a prequel to the Predator series? It could be inferred though there seemed nothing blatantly indicating this. Is it ‘in the same universe’ as the AVP series but not part of those storylines? Alien and Predator were originally not connected at all and were done as a cross over event by DarkHorse comics… so it’s a very retroactive continuity anyway and apparently this film conflicts with the history of them presented in the AVP film.

The film is well made on the technical side with excellent creature designs but the script and editing leave unnecessary issues for the audience. There are good ideas and concepts presented but a number of issues ruin the impact and leave the audience with more questions than they began with. The fact the creators had to explain so much of the plot narrative’s context after its release even though it is a mainstream film should tell you everything you need to know. It is not art house or philosophical enough (e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey, the different versions of Solaris, Silent Running or many 1970s science fiction films based on science fiction literature) to get away with leaving mysteries for the audience to answer for themselves. In fact many things were explained in supplemental things like online videos released prior to the film but a film should be self-contained and not assume the audience will treat it as a multimedia experience. AVP was too dumbed down while this film asks too much of the ‘blockbuster’ mainstream audience. In all honesty unless they make a Prometheus 2 and expand on the concepts they introduced I would suggest going back and watching the originals Alien, Aliens, Predator and Predator 2 as there were issues with the other sequels which, while fun in their own right for the most part, don’t match up to the quality of these early efforts. Alien: Resurrection is best viewed as ‘what happens if an American studio tries to make a French style science fiction film’. The extras on the DVD are deleted scenes and alternative scenes. I remember on my copy of the X-MEN film there was an option to have these inserted into the running order of the film as you watched it. I wish all DVDs allowed that as it was a great feature.

There is a Russian language track. That surprised me. I last saw one featured on my copy of Ed Wright’s Adaption of Anna Karenina where it made sense (to me). I am trying to learn Russian and so that was a nice surprise. Of course for Region 2 DVDs we tend to get French, German and occasionally Spanish or Italian. Oddly if you look at the back of many DVD cases they don’t account for the language tracks they offer but it’s always a nice surprise if you are trying to learn a language and find a film has one you can use. Admittedly considering the amount of technical terminology in this film it probably isn’t going to be that good in some scenes but from what I watched its all easy to follow and thus a good source for pronunciation (as long as you keep in mind David is speaking very formally similar to the actor’s Peter O’Toole impression he does in the original Elnglish language version).

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The Quiet Ones (2014) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Quiet_Ones_%282014_film%29 : I love HAMMER films and felt ‘The Woman In Black’ was a worthy addition to the company’s back catalogue. ‘The Quiet Ones‘ deals with a parapsychology experiment which is a story type I don’t think HAMMER ever did before. It definitely has the tone and pacing of the older 1970s HAMMER films. I enjoyed it but in all honesty if you have seen a parapsychology experiment based film you can pretty much guess the narrative (which is true for a lot of horror films sadly). ‘The Quiet Ones‘ is a high quality addition to this kind of story but it offers nothing new if you have seen this type of film before. I would suggest ‘Red Lights’ (2012) which has a different take on the theme or ‘Insidious’ (2010) because it is a less serious, over the top, version of the idea. The DVD has quite a few extras which was a really nice surprise.

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The Great Gatsby (2013) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Gatsby_%282013_film%29 : Visually stunning but unfulfilling if it is your only experience of the story. I enjoyed watching it as I do many of Baz Luhrmann’s works as I prefer a hyper stylised film adaption than a ‘straight’ normal looking presentation. I find I enjoy his works more if I know the original from another source than if this is my first experience of it. It is eye candy quickly forgotten like a nice painting seen in a gallery you appreciate when stood before it until you move onto the next. The 1974 adaption starring Robert Redford still seemed to be the measure of the novel’s film adaptions. Go read the novella as surprisingly it is written in a very immediate visual style and most of Toby Maguire’s voice over narration is lifted directly from the first person narrator’s commentary in the novel. The DVD has short clips of Baz Luhrmann introducing and discussing a few of the deleted scenes explaining his narrative choices which was actually a very good edition as it helps explain things if people are dissatisfied with his adaption omitting certain aspects of the novel. Again I wish there was an option to insert these omitted but filmed parts back into the film’s running order. Admittedly there is the director’s intent and these things are unwanted extras taking away from their clear narrative but I would like the option and it seems a shame to orphan these aspects as an aside.


Hopefully I will find time to do a proper blog entry soon.