The play started with Mr (R-)Kipps (R-Kipps refers to real Kipps, Mr kipps to actor in role) walking onstage. There was no indication from lighting or sound that the play had begun as neither changed, even the house lights didn’t go down. This, the lack of set and Mr (R-)Kipps repeating and tripping over his lines gave an immediate amateurish feel to the production. However Mr (R-)Kipps was then interrupted by the actor, who was standing behind the people sitting in the stalls, making them jump. He referred to all the empty seats as he made his way up to the stage, making it clear that the play was set in a theatre and that we weren’t really there, creating a fourth wall. The fact that the lighting and sound hadn’t changed made us think that the production was set in the theatre we were sitting in, immediately making the play (and the non-existent threat of the woman in black) more realistic. The actors were performing for a long time before the house lights finally faded out, allowing us to be slowly drawn in and as the story darkened so did the stage lighting and the seating area around us.
The key way in which they differentiated between the play (the Actor helping Mr (R-)Kipps) and the play within the play (PWP) (the Actor playing Mr Kipps) was the use of sound and lighting. The PWP used a vast array of sound and lighting drawing us into the story, where as the play used a basic wash of white light, and if a sound effect was added it was always commented upon (e.g. the clock ticking to make the office), and had only been added in the first place as it was going to be used in the PWP. The Actor communicated with the imaginary sound technician Mr Bruce by moving DS, looking up, past audience and clicking his fingers to do this. He would also click his fingers at Mr Bruce to snap out of the PWP. This was extremely effective as we were always aware of which play we were viewing. However I found it annoying as after they had been building up tension in the PWP to suddenly snap out of it destroyed the tension and took us away from the story, making us once again aware that we were watching a play. This also made the scenes that took part in the play seemed long and drawn out, as the lack of lighting and sound meant that the play relied solely on the acting, script and plot, weakening the overall production.
However the performances during the PWP were fantastic. David Acton convincingly became a variety of different characters, convincingly changing his accent for each character depending on their class and area they lived (e.g. country accent) as well as giving them certain characteristic, for instance Tomes’s sniff. The tone and pace of his voice would also change, for instance Keckwick had a slow, deep, emotionless voice with a thick country accent. He also had an emotionless facial expression and was hunched over, creating a secrecy about the character that made us very wary of him. His transformation between the different characters was also aided with simple costume changes that dictated the class and background of the character, as well as suiting the situation they were currently in. For example to become Keckwick he donned a dark green coat, an old scarf and brown hat. All the items looked well used, inexpensive and were darkly coloured, suitably making the character looked dressed for a cold night or day, showing he is working-class as well as indicating to the audience that the characters were outside. Where as to be Mr Jerome at the funeral he dressed smartly in a black suit and top hat (middle or upper class), again this suited the character and the situation. The majority of the costume changes were done on stage with the open use of a clothes rail. This is a Brechtian technique that asks the audience to suspend their disbelief and momentarily breaks the fourth wall. However we were perfectly happy to accept the actors doing it, as we simply believed him to be Mr Kipps acting.
We were equally accepting of their creative use of the props, believing the wicker basket to become the pony and trap or a train. This was mainly due to the actor’s use of the multi-functional props like the jolting when on the trap/train, but was helped by other elements, like the recorded sound of the horse’s hooves for the pony and trap. However the actor’s skill alone was enough for us to believe in something. The dog, spider, didn’t exist in any shape or form, yet we believed in him because the actors did. Ben Deery always knew exactly what the dog was doing and where it was onstage, constantly looking at and interacting with it. When Deery and Acton had a scene together with the dog they both looked in the same place, furthering our belief.
The first time we see the woman in black is at the funeral of Alice Drablow. A cross was projected onto the gauze setting the scene, as did the characters smart, black attire and a recording of a funeral passage read in an intoning voice. The stage was dimly lit, creating an air of suspense. Mr Kipps and Mr Jerome had their back to the audience and stood USL as the woman in black entered through the audience. This gave an immediate shock to those sitting near to the aisle as well as keeping up the suspense and tension as the characters couldn’t see her. There positioning on the stage also meant that Mr Kipps had to turn and look DS to see the woman in black, giving us a clear view of his facial expression and therefore reaction. This was not one of horror as I had expected, but despite slight confusion it looked as though he was merely registering another mourner. This made me doubt that this was the actual woman in black. Up to this point in the play small things had been making us jump, like when the actor fell over two buckets, creating sudden movement (from character falling) and sudden loud sound (from metal buckets falling and bumping into each other) after a period of little sound or action. Equally during the train journey when another train passed by we jumped as the scene had been fairly quiet and had low lighting, so the sudden burst of light, yellow light (representing the light of the passing train) projected onto the gauze and burst of the loud recorded noise of a train was unexpected. This gradually built up our expectation and tension. The woman dressed in black seemed to be another example of this. The characters then move DS and the change of lighting (it faded to an out of focus leaf gobo with green gels in the DS wash, the cross is no longer being projected) and sound (the passage finishes and is replaced with the sound of ravens, a bird associated with death) shows that they have moved out of the church. Mr Kipps brings up seeing the woman in black; he does it casually, thinking she is another mourner, almost confirming to us that this was another false alarm. However Mr Jerome’s reaction disproves this. His face goes white and looks stiff and controlled, he stays completely still and his posture also suddenly becomes very stiff. His wide eyes give away his fear and intensify ours. He won’t look Mr Kipps in the eye, this lack of eye contact makes Mr Kipps suspicious and frightened and at this point in the play we are so involved with the characters that this heightens our own sense of suspicion and fear.
The Woman in Black makes several appearances throughout the play, most of which are sudden and unexpected, shocking us briefly. The only time I felt genuinely afraid was when the supernatural activity had a build up. The sound of heartbeats and the pony and trap were often used alongside darkness and night-time to do this, building up a foreboding, haunting atmosphere. This was used so much that we learnt to associate it with a terrifying outcome, and by the end of the play seeing/hearing either would immediately fill us with dread, creating suspense and tension. The sound/darkness is then intensified to intensify our reaction and the pace of the sound effects speeds up, scaring us further, until reaching a shocking climax of either the appearance of the Woman in Black or a blood curdling scream that is so loud we can feel it.
Short shocks often involve the gauze, it constantly switches from opaque to transparent, revealing something to shock us. It’s also used to show the location of a scene by projecting gobo’s onto it (e.g. outside of house). It also creates another room that can be easily accessed by backstage crew during the play, the sudden change of this room can scare us, like when the nursery is ruined, as in the play the room is almost inaccessible, so it suggests supernatural activity. It’s these hidden features of the set that help make the play so scary. The theatre has hidden wings and steps at the front of the stage to make it seem like the woman in black can appear at will. Overall it is a very scary play.