Write Like A … Theatre Critic!

On Wednesday, 7th February a group of current and future English Literature A Level Students took to the Alexandra theatre in Birmingham to see an adaption of Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, The Woman in Black’, for the stage.

This allowed them to consider dramatic intentions, stage craft and how symbolism can be presented visually as well as through the written word for play texts.

Three of our students have taken the opportunity to ‘write like a theatre critic’ to develop their own evaluative writing skills.

We hope enjoy reading them, choosing the winner will be difficult. The winner will receive a hardback, clothbound copy of this text to treasure the memory of this school visit.

Mrs E Taylor-Hamblett

Vlad in Y13:

“This empty theatre”.

The transcendence of the stage in ‘The Woman in Black’ is beyond the immersion that prose and poetry can achieve. Though the play’s outset excites chuckling in the audience through its blatant ignorance of the eager individuals occupying the theatre’s seats, the play’s completion ultimately crumbles the fourth wall into pure fear and horror.

On stage, the dichotomy of light and dark can act directly in the physical realm, transforming the merely imaginative feeling of blindness commonly employed in prose into a very real feeling of vulnerability. One no longer has to sympathise with the characters when finding oneself in the same position as them.

The initial dramatic irony providing insight into the most intimate discussions, between artist and editor, that shape Literature acts as an interesting commentary on conformity. On a meta-literary level, the struggle to transform a story into the appropriate format, be it a play or a novel — in this case, both — is a balancing act between authenticity and appeal. The direct reference to this struggle within the framing story acts as an additional layer of immersion to the audience, through the affinity created with the actors as they break character. The artificial fourth wall, however, remains, only until the barrier between the framing story and actual story is blurred in the dénouement, which in turn implicates the audience directly in the action in preparation for the final spike in tension.

The play also explores certain limitations of stagecraft, most memorably the inability to have animals on stage. Having been the first play that most of us had watched in person, the framing story acted as a great introduction to the theatre, establishing the importance of props and of imagination. The whole play was conducted with two chairs, a stool, a chest, a coat rack, and a few other obstacles over which the actors could trip; the use of the chest as a bed as well as a horse trap outlined the versatility of props, as well as the difficulty of conducting single-set performances whilst conveying changes in setting.

Sharanpreet in Y12:

Brilliantly brought to life was the supernatural tale of Susan Hill’s, ‘A Woman In Black’, at the Alexandra theatre, to an audience ready to be captivated by the awe and horror of a critically acclaimed ghost story. Cunning use of lighting and sound transformed a mere stage in a morphing portrait of the caged state of the traumatized Mr Kipps. Director Robin Hereford has captured the damning psychological turmoil of Arthur Kipps as an overwhelming wave of violent screams and smog, engulfing the tantalised audience. One can only celebrate the retelling of the tale as gripping, luring the audience in with the initial breaking of the fourth wall, not only by ‘the actor’ but the vengeful spirit herself- who emanated an ever-present looming darkness to frighten and grieve the young Arthur Kipps, as well as the audience, in appearing from a void at the side of the front rows. The excellence of the play can be epitomised in the moment of pure chaos and terror when the ill-stricken clerk is plagued by the innocent screech of a child, the memories that haunt him and the woman glaring from the fateful rocking chair…a reminder of her malevolent presence even when moments of safety are perceived. Thus, the ambiguous insinuation of ‘the actor’ facing the same fate of his on-stage companion only adds to the grief and pathos evoked from the trembling audience. A riveting retelling of the book come to life in this two-man show, worthy of the ovation it received. 

Mitchell in Y11:

Creative liberties:

The stage performance of The Woman in Black takes many creative liberties, such as having only two actors present on stage.

The two characters consists of the Actor and Arthur Kipps, meaning there is a lot of multi rolling. The stage performance differs from the classic tale as it’s still the classic English ghost story with hints of comedy creating a masterpiece for the audience to watch as it combines beautifully two contrasting images of comedy and suspense. The contrasting images comments on Kipps’ internal struggle and the actors disbelief in his story is so captivating. I loved the creative liberties taken as they really built the suspense. For example, the ending was one of my favourite parts as the cyclical structure of both these men suffering encapsulated the traditional English Horror Story in which hill was going for.

Would I watch again?

Yes! The Woman in Black is a show that you will never stop thinking about even months after watching it, it will constantly be stuck on your mind, as it’s got something for everyone. It’s a thriller, it has comedy aspects and deep down-the story is a tragedy, which is so beautifully and gracefully woven into a perfect story of suspense, love, loss and grief. I would say The Woman in Black-is not one-to miss out on-if you do get the chance-to go, please do as it is absolutely outstanding. If I’m being brutally honest shows like this don’t come along very often so i implore you to watch it at least once. I promise you won’t regret it.