The Woman in Black - Review

It doesn't get any better than this

The Woman in Black
Ad. by Stephen Mallatratt from the book by Susan Hill

Direction: Beth Morton and Joan Nordlund
Producer: Daniel McMullen
Lighting: Stina Halmetoja
Sound design: Christian Jull, Beth Morton, Fionna O'Sullivan and Alex Southern
Costumes: Zoë Chandler
Cast: Christian Jull, Daniel McMullen, Marietta Chela

The Finn-Brit Players
Tunturikadun vierailunäyttämö

5-13 April 2013

As a theatregoer in London one sometimes lands at a performance of a modest size, where the focus is not so much on stagecraft goodies as on acting. The craft. They can be productions in which a small number of actors rush from one character to the next in a play in which the very storytelling, not some dazzling empty show, is the main thing. A couple of examples: the 39 Steps, Stones in His Pocket, Under Milk Wood, and indeed The Woman in Black, Stephen Mallatratt's dramatisation of Susan Hill's creepy ghost story.

Sitting in the Puoli-Q theatre space watching the first performance of the Finn-Brit Players' production of The Woman in Black I had to pinch myself hard on a couple of occasions and tell myself: You're not in London, you are in Helsinki! In other words, I cannot in any way describe how a professional London production of the Woman in Black could be different from this amateur production by the Finn-Brit Players! The Finn-Brit Players are a new acquaintance to me on my indefatigable quest through the theatrical life of Helsinki, so I do not know if this production is representative of the Players' standard. One thing I do know for sure, however. It cannot get any better than this, which I suppose is the top grade you can award. Well done!

I am very impressed with the acting, with Christian Jull and Daniel McMullen subtly and extremely professionally changing their characters. Not only do their voices change, so does the whole persona. It is so skilfully done. The story of The Woman in Black strikes me as genuinely English. It unfolds in an ill-fated and desolate setting of a hundred or more years ago. The fog creeps in and it is as creepy as when Sherlock Holmes roams on Dartmoor. There is plenty of scope for a good mix of characters from different strata of society, and Jull and McMullen make the most of it. And we must not, of course, forget Marietta Chela, who on a couple of occasions convincingly creates the spooky character of the lady in black.

The stage is fairly bare. Rather barren. A desk with a chair. A rocking chair in the background. The atmosphere is created by light and sound, and the sound effects play a substantial and essential role in the narrative. Thus it is not strange that the desk suddenly turns into a pony and trap. This production skilfully emphasises the absolutely essential element of a theatrical experience: imagination.

Having said this, I really think it is a pity that the play is being performed for one week only. The production would really deserve a large audience.

Original review by Ulf Persson for Recensenterna.
Translation from Swedish by Joan and Henrik Nordlund.