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A view to a chill

David Light
Filed on January 28, 2009

Brace yourselves because the scariest play the West End has to offer is coming to Dubai, for a limited time only. As part of the Dubai Shopping Festival ĎThe Woman in Blackí will be petrifying audiences in the Madinat Theatre as it has done in Londonís Theatre Land for the past twenty years.

Based on Susan Hillís bestselling original novel, this bone-chilling production is respected internationally as one of the most heart-stopping plays ever written, having entertained over three million people. Stephen Mallatratt's adaptation for the stage remains entirely true to the book and uses much of Hill's own descriptive writing and dialogue, while transforming the novel into a totally gripping piece of theatre.

Eel Marsh House stands tall, gaunt and isolated, surveying the endless flat salt marshes beyond the Nine Lives Causeway, somewhere on England's bleak East Coast. Here Mrs. Alice Drablow lived - and died - alone. Young Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is ordered by his firm's senior partner to travel up from London to attend her funeral and sort out her affairs. His task is a lonely one, and at first Kipps is quite unaware of the tragic secrets which lie behind the house's shuttered windows.

Shortly after his arrival he glimpses a young woman with a wasted face, dressed all in black, at the back of the church at Mrs Drablow's funeral, and later, in the graveyard to one side of Eel Marsh House. Who is she? Why is she there? He asks questions, but the locals will not give him answers - they refuse to talk about the woman in black, or even to acknowledge her existence. So, Arthur Kipps has to wait until he sees her again, where she slowly reveals her identity to him - and her terrible purpose.This new production features two accomplished West End actors, David Seddon and James Clarkson, in the roles of 'The Actor' and 'Arthur Kipps' respectively in a haunting staging directed by John Payton. City Times spoke to the actors about the playís progress and life on the stage.

How have rehearsals been going for this production of ĎThe Woman in Blackí?

David: Rehearsals are going very well and are extremely enjoyable. Theyíre very collaborative which means that everyone involved has a real stake in the finished product. Iím very lucky to be working with a really talented director and fellow actor.

James: Very hard work and immensely exhilarating. Iím thrilled to be discovering seven totally different characters, how they walk and talk, from a suave London lawyer to an uneducated Northern coachman.

Have either of you been in this play before? What do you think of it?

David: I played the role of the young actor in the West End version in London, so the play is a bit like an old friend to me. I love the show, but this production is particularly special as I get a chance to revisit the role of the actor my own way.

James: No, this is my first encounter with the play, but I hope not my last. It is a fabulous text, so clever and well-written, no wonder itís been in the West End for 20 years.

Youíre both West End actors, which plays have you been in before? Have either of you done any TV or film work?

David: Iíve appeared in the West End twice, in The Woman in Black and in Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams. Iíve mainly worked in the theatre, but Iím also a voiceover artist for Sky TV, and last year I appeared in the feature film The Other Side of the Game.

James: My first West End show was the much acclaimed Royal National theatre production of ĎAn Inspector Callsí at the Aldwych Theatre. Most recently, Iíve just done ĎThe Pendulumí, a new play at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

On screen, Iíve been seen as Mr Patten in Mayhewís Londoners (BBC) for Jonathan Miller and as Theo Churchman in Doctors (BBC). You may also catch me this spring in Coldplayís new Music Video for ĎLife in Technicolorí.

How does it feel to be performing in Dubai?

David: Iím thrilled to be performing in Dubai. Touring is one of my favourite things as an actor, and to get the opportunity to travel to another country is a real treat.

Have either of you been here before?

James: No, but I am really looking forward to it, Iíve heard so much about the place.

David: I played the role of Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger in Dubai back in 2006, which was also produced by Popular Productions. I had a really great time then, so itís nice to have the opportunity to return. Apart from anything else, so much has happened in Dubai since I was last here, so Iím looking forward to seeing how much it has changed.

Will the play be exactly the same as it is put on in London?

David: No. This is a new production. Obviously there will be similarities as both shows work from the same script, but this production is very much our show and we hope it builds on the strengths of the London production and has a few new surprises of its own!

When did you both catch the acting bug?

James: I suppose I first caught the acting bug when I played the ĎFlip-Flop maní in a play by Enid Blyton at my primary school. I was about six or seven. But the big choice came after university when I saw Laurence Olivier as Othello, Schofield as Lear and Gielgud as, well, Gielgud.

David: Iíve acted ever since I was a child, but I really caught the acting bug when I saw a production of Shakespeareís Richard III when I was 16. It was a Royal Shakespeare Company production, directed by a young Sam Mendes, which toured to my local theatre in the north east of England. I can remember watching the guy playing Gloucester - an incredible actor called Simon Russell Beale - and being completely blown away by him. Thatís when I thought ďthatís the job for me!Ē

What would you say your big breaks were?

James: When I was lucky enough to be cast in ĎArsenic and Old Laceí with Tom Baker from Dr. Who Ė that opened lots of doors.

David: Iíve had some incredible experiences as an actor. The one moment that sticks in my mind is when I made my West End debut in Suddenly Last Summer. Walking out on to the stage at the top of the first scene and looking out into the packed auditorium before playing opposite Diana Rigg was a very cool moment in my career.

Can you see any aspects of yourselves in the characters you play?

James: Well of course, audiences often think that acting is all about impersonation, with funny voices and false noses, but thatís just five per cent of a performance. All the rest comes from inside the actor and itís all about not acting but telling the truth.

WERE YOU SCARED WHEN YOU SAW THE WOMAN IN BLACK FOR THE FIRST TIME

J: Yes! I saw Frank Finlay as Kipps on tour in Bristol, and it frightened the life out of me Ėand the rest of the audience too.

D: I kind of ruined it for myself, as I read the play before my audition for the West End production and sat in on rehearsals. So by the time I saw the actual show, I knew what was going to happen. However, there were still some bits that made me jump out of my skin. I really envy anyone going to see it for the first time because theyíre in for a real treat.

HOW MUCH FUN IS IT DOING A SCARY PLAY?

J: Itís hard to say how much until we get in front of an audience! But I am hopingÖ

D: The real fun comes when you perform it in front of an audience because when you hear them screaming, you know youíve done your job right.

We also caught up with director John Payton to ask about bringing the play to the UAE.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO PUT ON THE WOMAN IN BLACK?

The Woman in Black is a kind of theatrical institution in the UK, millions have seen it. I grew up with Susan Hill's bestselling novel from which the play is adapted and the play was one of the first West End productions that made an impact on me when I was younger. The original production is now in its twentieth year on stage which is testament to its quality. It now stands as the second longest running play in the history of London's West End behind Agatha Christies 'The Mousetrap', and its very rare that plays last anywhere near that long in the cutthroat market of commercial theatre. Thatís not to say that the play is dated or tired though. We felt that due to its International success (it has been seen in over 40 countries) and unique story, the time was right to bring the show to Dubai and give UAE audiences the scare of their lives!

WHAT CAN THE AUDIENCE EXPECT FROM THE PERFORMANCE?

The great thing about The Woman in Black is that whilst it is incredibly creepy at times and genuinely heart stopping (there are moments in the play where you will literally jump out of your seat), it doesn't resort to gore, violence or anything gruesome like other horrors. It deals with tales of ghosts, moments of stillness and tension and gradually introduces the audience to the unnatural, gothic world of the play. It has all the elements of a traditional mystery, a man on the search for the truth, a selection of creepy supporting characters and plenty of evocative music and effects. We also have some fantastic actors whose performances I know the audiences will really appreciate. Dubai rarely has the opportunity to see good quality drama on stage, let alone classics like this one, so it really is a great chance to catch a brilliantly written play here in the city.

WOULD YOU SAY THIS IS A FAMILY FAVOURITE?

The show is not a 'family show' in the traditional sense no, however it is a strong favourite with schools and colleges since many have studied the novel and play in classrooms. As the play has no blood or violence it is suitable for most ages, however because of the style of the production, and the moments of terror which play a big part in it, we recommend that itís best for 9+. To be honest, it doesn't matter how old you are, you'll still be scared. Itís a perfect night out for a group of people as the 'shared experience' of the play, the sharing of the thrills and jump out of your seat moments, is a big part of The Woman in Black.

DOES THE PLAY SCARE YOU?It does, and that's saying something as I spend hours and hours a day with it. Everyone has a story about a ghost that they've heard or experienced. The ghost in ĎThe Woman in Blackí is a 'revengeful ghost' as opposed to a 'benevolent ghost'. Its purpose is evil and thatís one of the elements that the play, like all good ghost stories, deals with. It also has a dark old haunted house as its main location and I've had the misfortune personally to have spent two weeks in one, many years ago on tour in the UK. Old houses have a character of their own and the slightest creak or bump can make you feel someone is in the room with you, one of the many strange things that actually happened to me on my stay. ĎThe Woman in Blackí has all those elements, twinned with a twisted, chilling story so yes Ė Iíd say it does scare me!

IN ONE SENTENCE WHY SHOULD PEOPLE COME AND SEE THE WOMAN IN BLACK?

It promises fantastic performances, proven drama and excitement and people should see the show because we dare them not to be scared...

BOOKING DETAILS:

THE WOMAN IN BLACK

By Susan Hill and Stephen Mallatratt

Wednesday 28th January Ė Friday 6th February 2009The Madinat Theatre

Souk Madinat, Jumeirah, Dubai

Box office:

Timeout Tickets on 800 4669

Or in person at the theatre box office at Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Book online at:

www.madinattheatre.com & www.timeouttickets.com

Performances:

Wednesday 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st January and 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th February at 8pm

Matinees: 29th January at 2pm, 30th January at 3pm, 4th and 6th February at 2pm

Ticket Prices:

AED160

Schools/Colleges group booking discounts available on request to groups@seewomaninblack.com

david@khaleejtimes.com


 
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