When Your Imagination Sends Shivers up Your Spine
Review of The Woman in Black, produced by Theatre KONTRA
Photo: Theatre Kontra - Peter Čižmár (on the left), Miki Macala (on the right)
What images conjure up in your mind when I say “fear”? Geysers of blood sprouting from severed limbs? Gloomy haunted houses? Doors opening and shutting on their own? Objects being moved about by an invisible force? Theatre Kontra from Spišská Nová Ves, which premiered their production of The Woman In Black, Stephen Mallatratt's theatre adaptation of the famous eponymous novel by Susan Hill, in Bratislava’s A4 last Saturday, convinced the audience that the thing we really need to be afraid of is our imagination.
Since its formation, Theatre Kontra, which celebrated its fourth birthday in January, has produced only plays that have not been staged in Slovakia yet. Actors Peter Čižmár and Miki Macala and director Klaudyna Rozhin have introduced to Slovak audiences Irish playwrights Marie Jones and Conor McPherson and unknown playlets by Samuel Beckett. The choice of The Woman In Black, a mainstream gothic horror that has been running at London’s West End since 1987, may therefore come as a surprise.
Although it is true that the play is not high art, as a ghost story, it works really well and has you shivering and, at times, covered in goose bumps. The story concerns Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor who is sent to wind up the affairs of a recently deceased woman, uncanny Mrs. Drablow, who had lived a reclusive life in a remote and mysterious house. The locals are afraid to approach it as they believe it is cursed. As a result, young Kipps cannot rely on their help and has to wind up the affairs by himself. Years later, and this is where the play actually starts, he reveals his ghostly experiences with the aid of an actor/director, whom he hired to help him prepare to tell his story in front of his relatives and friends. Kipps believes that in narrativizing the frightening events, he will exorcize the ghosts of the past.
The use of psychodramatic techniques that The Woman In Black employs and that permit Kipps to take part in his own story as an observer rather than as a participant immersed in emotions results in an interesting distribution of roles. While Arthur Kipps is played by the hired actor, Arthur himself plays other episodic characters. This requires great flexibility from Peter Čižmár, the actor who plays the part of the real Arthur Kipps and ten other characters that his protagonist encounters on his travels. He is fortunately talented enough to shift between individual characters smoothly. Ćižmár’s naturalness contrasts with Miki Macala, who sometimes overplays his part of the stage Arthur Kipps.
Both actors are, however, adept at keeping you on the edge of your seat. With the most basic props, a few sound effects and with the aid of your imagination, they keep tension levels high and create an astonishingly effective atmosphere of fear. Therefore, if you are the kind of person who likes shivers running up his or her spine, this is a show for you.