Sunday, 19 December 2010

Review of 2010 - what was missed out: January

The Woman Black

By Stephen Mallatratt

This is a touring production of The Woman In Black and we catch it at Richmond Theatre. It’s based on Susan Hill’s novel of the same name and has been running in the West End for almost 20 years.

Basically it’s a two-hander with a non-speaking ‘lady in black’ who glides around the stage on a few occasions. At first the adaptation seems laboured: the conceit is that the younger solicitor who experienced the ghostly events as a young man enlists the help of an actor so that he can tell this story from his youth to other memories of his family. It introduces the idea of a narrative within a narrative – a frequent device of this time of Victorian supernatural tale – as well as engaging (even if only peripherally) with ideas of performance and how to be effectively convincing in performance.

After the slightly tedious set up for the storytelling we get into the tale itself. It is here that the power of the narrative engages particularly. The young solicitor is sent somewhere geographically imprecise but seems to be far to the north and east of London. He goes to clear up the estate of a recently deceased old client who lives in an isolated house cut off by the tide twice a day just outside a small town. Locals do not talk to him about events at the house but he gets a clear sense of something peculiar having gone on there.

The key incidents of the haunting of the house and the spooking of the young man, together with the unfurling of the mystery surrounding the law firm’s dead client are skilfully related. The staging is simple but works extremely well. Surprise and frisson come from apparently simple devices such as a rocking chair and the disarrangement of a previously tidy room.

It was an entertaining evening’s theatre, well performed by two actors who have both been in the West End production as well.

Richmond Theatre

Dr Marigold and Mr Chops

By Charles Dickens

Simon Callow performed two of Dickens dramatic monologues at the Riverside Studios.

The stories were typically Dickensian being both amusing and sentimentally manipulative. Mr Chops - about a deaf and dumb girl - was especially sentimental, while Dr Marigold - a rumbustuous tale about carny folk and a dwarf - was more amusingly poignant. Simon Callow's performance in both simply but effectively staged tales was excellent.

Riverside Studios

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