Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black was written in the Gothic tradition. Specifically, she wanted to write a Victorian Ghost story, even though her novel was written in modern times. Stephen Mallatratt, in adapting the novel into a play, wanted to stay within the novel’s tradition, especially by focusing on terror instead of horror: “Darkness is a powerful ally of terror; something glimpsed in a corner is far more frightening than if it’s fully observed.” The play contains many classic Gothic elements, including: Tension, “True” story, Sounds, Whispers, Bangs, Ghost/Person to get scared, Darkness and a House/lonely place.
The Woman in Black is a scary gothic play. Stephen Mallatratt, the playwright, achieves a terrifying effect through writing an effective mise-en-scene. These include the setting, lighting, props, sound, the text and stage directions for actors, these combine and make a “nerve shredding experience”
Stephen Mallatratt also uses lighting effectively, this is seen in (p40) when “Kipps takes up the torch and moves outside, fade to black-out” on stage this is very daunting as the stage is pitch black you don’t know what is going to happen next, this creates a mysterious setting and “truly nerve-shredding experience” for the audience. In addition, another area the light was used effectively was the scene that when Kipps is looking for Spider in act III. The Woman in Black is in the nursery where it is light however, ‘she is outside the light, yet we see her as a crow-like silhouette, violently flapping in the dark’. The use of light plays on the audience’s emotions; as we are conditioned to believe black represents evil and light represents good.
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One of the techniques that the author uses to make the play “nerve-shredding” is sound. For example, as the noise of the pony’s hooves gets louder and louder as if it’s coming closer, a child’s cry rises to a scream of terror which is then choked and drowned. The audience should feel the fear and worry of what was going to happen next. Another example is seen in the play for example when the “Market noises fade and foot steps echo” (p19) Mallatratt uses this to show the audience that the scene is taking place out side and to give a chilling, eerie affect on the audience. As “The lighting dims slightly to give filtered effect through trees. They walk on, which creates an atmosphere to the scene. This includes, a moody and foggy setting, however, Kipps and Mr Daily acts as if they are going into a church, Kipps “I take it she is to be buried in the churchyard?” discussing about The Woman in Black.
The stage props were minimal due to the limited amount of space at the theatre. Therefore, the props that were used had to create maximum effect. These included, a wicker basket, clothes hanging on a rail and chair for the actors to sit on. The wicker basket was used as a prop to illustrate a train carriage, a bed, horse carriage and a desk. The clothes rail was situated up stage and never moved from its position. The purpose of this prop was to illustrate a cloak room. The chair was used by the actors to portray someone sitting on a train. Alternatively, as piece of furniture in a room; for example, a desk chair or an arm chair.
In the play Mallatratt only uses three actors. Kipps plays many roles, his main is narrating the story; however, Kipps also plays ‘Keckwick’ and ‘Mr Daily’. This is due to Kipps not feeling confident enough to tell his story; therefore he tells an actor who plays Mr Kipps. Whilst he is telling the actor the audience become aware of his story through the actor. The Woman in Black is the final actress; she is used for effect as the actress has no lines. The main purpose of this actress is to create fear in the audience. The audience on view her when Mallatratt is creating terror.
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There are very thorough stage directions given throughout the play ‘from the skip he takes out the bottle of brandy and a glass and pours himself a largish measure’. This is an example of the detail Mallatratt uses in his stage directions. Therefore, any director could re-capture the same effects from his stage directions. Furthermore, his stage directions include lighting and sound effects ‘the lights have dimmed to virtual darkness’. This illustrates that Mallatratt uses light to give an illusion or effect of eeriness and emotions of fear to the audience. The director uses sound for effect “as the sound fades down, changes apparent direction, swirls and fades as if carried on the mist”. He use of sound fading, gives the illusion that the fog is dispersing.
In conclusion, I feel Mallatratts play was a “truly nerve-shredding experience”. His use of lighting when the Woman in Black was on stage was classic. The experience made my skin crawl and my hair stand on end. The sound created an atmosphere of terror, the most effective scene was the sound used to recreate the pony’s hooves. Mallatratt truly made me feel that a horse and carriage was entering the stage through the sounds effects. However, I feel he could have used more props to give more effect. An example includes a silhouette of the little boy. By using three actors Mallatratt has still captures Kipps story. I suggest that due to his precise and detailed stage directions any other director could be re-capture the essence of his play. Overall, I found the theatre experience far better than reading the play due to being part of the atmosphere.
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