The Woman in Black: Play, Movie, Book
“I give it an F,” said Spike at we emerged from our local playhouse and into the nighttime fog. I’ve always found her to be remarkably perceptive in her grading system of movies and plays. Even when she disagrees with me I often can’t help thinking, Yeah, she’s probably right.
Still, this time I thought she was being a little harsh, although I can’t say I’d rate the play any higher than a C-minus. It had been a major disappointment from the beginning, and any hopes of a big finish were soon dashed shortly after intermissions.
The play was The Woman in Black, and I had been looking forward to seeing it. The advertising had claimed it to be this incredibly scary ghost story, and that it had been running in London for 25 years. I always enjoy a good old-school ghost story when I can find one, which is extremely rare these days. And so I snapped up tickets to this production with some eagerness and, admittedly, a little bit of fear. I mean, I didn’t want to get really scared in a room full of people. I needn’t have worried.
The play featured only two actors (plus a woman playing the title role). I won’t give away the story, but the whole thing seemed convoluted from the get-go. Before the end of the first act I had figured out where they were going, and how it would end. And that’s not bragging, as I can rarely figure out even the most obvious of storylines.
And so during intermission I hinted to Spike that I knew how the play would conclude, but I wouldn’t tell her my theory. For her part, she had already given up on the play, correctly as it turned out. But how could this be? Twenty-five years in London and all that?
A few days later I rented the movie version of The Woman in Black, and it turned out to be much more of a classic ghost story, devoid of the awkward machinations that had been inserted into the play for whatever reasons. It wasn’t a great ghost story, but it was definitely more enjoyable than the play. Then again, so was going to the DMV.
The ending of the movie in no way resembled the play, although you would recognize the various characters and scenarios in both forms. And so I wondered what had caused them to make so many changes for the stage. Was it possible that here was a book that never should have been made into a play at all, bit was anyway?
The only way to find out, of course, was to read the book. And so a few days after one-clicking it on Amazon I did just that. It’s a skillfully written novella, created in the form of a nineteenth century Gothic novel. There were some parts that were actually a bit chilling, which is especially difficult in a book, where you can’t rely on cheap scares like slamming doors or loud musical chords. The ending, curiously, was neither like the movie nor, thank God, the play. After experiencing The Woman in Black in all three forms I wondered how the author felt about how they had changed her work. I also wondered if the stage version I saw at our local theater was the same as the one in London. In my mind I know it couldn’t possibly be.
Going through my parents belongings last month I found two large boxes filled with copies of Playbill from the scores of plays they had attended together. And these were just from the 80’s and 90’s. I knew they had been attending the theater since the late ‘40’s. I often told my mom that I much prefer going to the movies than seeing a live play. She thought I was nuts. Admittedly, I too thought I must be a little off to feel this way. That is, until I saw the stage version of The Woman in Black. And I couldn’t even eat popcorn to ease my suffering.