Over the years there have been plenty of films that have been made into musicals and musicals made into films – the first big-screen version of Les Miserables starts filming this year. Much as I may be looking forward to this particular development, the back-and-forth predictability of this relationship between film and musical is in danger of becoming a touch tired: so how nice it is to see the stage play reclaiming some of the attention for itself.
The film adaption of War Horse is currently reducing cinema audiences to blubbering wrecks. One of the most widely successful plays to come out of the National Theatre, it is now receiving great critical acclaim on the big screen and being hailed as another big hit for director Steven Spielberg. Soon to challenge War Horse for the claim to ‘Most Popular Stage To Screen Adaption’ though is The Woman In Black, which opens at UK cinemas in just two weeks time.
The Woman In Black is a terrifying piece of live theatre about a young lawyer whose work brings him to an isolated house in the small, desolated town of Crythin Gifford, where he finds himself confronted by a vengeful ghost known as the Woman in Black (for those who haven’t seen the play, I don’t want to spoil the experience for you with in-depth details). The Victorian fright-fest began life in literary-form with the publishing of Susan Hill’s original book in 1983. The first stage version appeared in Scarborough in 1987, playing at the Stephen Joseph Theatre-In-The-Round. It proved so popular that a West End transfer was inevitable and, two years later, it made its debut at the Fortune Theatre where it still plays today. Now in its twenty-fourth year, it is only second to Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap as the longest-running play in the West End.
The film adaption of The Woman In Black is led by stage and screen star Daniel Radcliffe in the role of lawyer Arthur Kipps. Radcliffe is famous in the film world for playing the title role of the boy wizard in the popular Harry Potter franchise, and famous in the theatre world for his respective West End and Broadway roles in Equus and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Funnily enough, I’m watching Radcliffe talk about the film on The Jonathan Ross Show as I write this – he tells Ross that it was the great story of The Woman In Black which attracted him to the role and describes it as, “A beautiful film, a scary film, and a British film to be proud of.”
As with any adaption, differences between the stage and screen version are par for the course. For the big screen, expect to see more scares and a much higher body count – this is Hammer horror after all. Radcliffe has shown himself to be nothing if not versatile in his acting career, although opinion concerning the versatility of his abilities is… divided. That’s a matter of personal taste, however. He’s backed up by a stellar cast though which includes Liz White as the spooky spectre, as well as Radcliffe’s former Harry Potter co-star Ciaran Hinds. Directed by James Watkins (My Little Eye, Eden Lake) and with a script from Jane Goldman (Stardust, Kick-Ass), the combination of cast and creative looks to be a winning formula; pre-release reviews have been (mostly) favourable so far (the ‘mostly’ refers to The Daily Mail’s write-up, but arguably there are not many people who actually take what they print to be true…).
As the newly-birthed 2012 is still finding its feet, War Horse and The Woman In Black are doing wonders for the theatrical genre of the stage play. The West End is all-encompassing and, despite what some may think, is more than just a home to musical theatre. Too often overlooked in favour of the musical, it’s nice to see the spotlight widening to include the stage play in its bright circle as well. Although yet to find a slot in my schedule to see War Horse in all its big-screen glory, it is most definitely on my To-Do list and The Woman In Black will be right there alongside it when it’s released on 10th February. Everyone enjoys being scared every now and then, and if the film of The Woman In Black is every bit as good as the play, then audiences are going to jump out of their skin with fright.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Book Tickets for The Woman in Black at The Fortune Theatre in London’s West End.