Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Backstory of "The Woman In Black"

The Woman In Black is the second longest running straight play in London's West End's history - second only to Agatha Christie's classic play The Mousetrap (4th overall if you count musicals) which is an achievement in and of itself. The fact that the play is really told only by two men (and one creepy ghost lady) makes it even more impressive in my book. It's a play that replies not on big lavish spectacle, but on two men who can tell a ripping good yarn. I got curious as to how the play came about, because the credits tell you straight away that it's based on a novella by Susan Hill. I did a little digging and found this backstory

Robin Herford was running the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough when he realised he hadn't spent his entire grant. His boss, Alan Ayckbourn, was off on sabbatical, so Herford decided, what with Christmas coming up, to put on a ghost story that could be staged cheaply and quickly – not in the main theatre, but in the bar. He asked the venue's resident playwright Stephen Mallatratt to rustle one up, with the proviso that the set and costumes couldn't cost more than £1,000, adding that there was only enough money to pay four actors. 
"He wasn't terribly impressed," remembers Herford, 25 years on. "But he came back a couple of days later and said, 'Have you read Susan Hill's book The Woman in Black?'" Hill's creepy novella had been published a few years earlier, in 1983. "I read it overnight and said, 'It's a fantastic story – but it's got a dozen characters.'" 
"I've got an idea about that," said Mallatratt. His masterstroke was to make The Woman in Black a play within a play, one that needs just two speaking actors, and a backstage crew of four. Elderly Arthur Kipps brings a ghost story to a young actor; it's the story of something that happened to Kipps 30 years earlier, and the actor turns it into a drama. 
I rather love that one of the top grossing plays of all time was conceived by a scrappy theatre on a shoestring budget. 
Our fellows and lady are working hard at creating a creepy fun story for our version of The Woman In Black. I think that sitting in such an intimate theatre will really help amplify the story. And they look fabulous don't they? 
Tasi Alabastro, Lessa Bouchard, and Kevin Kirby
Photo by James Kasyan
The show opens next week - it has a pay-what-you-will preview on Thursday, October 9th and then runs Thursdays through Sundays till November 2nd. Pre-sales are pretty strong so get your seats while you can

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