Library Dissertation Showcase

What are the challenges of adapting the supernatural elements of a ghost story to a stage performance?

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2020

Emma McEvoy states in her essay entitled Contemporary Gothic Theatre, that ‘[the] figure of the theatre has been frequently an object of Gothic insistence, not only within the novel…but also, self-referentially, on stage’ (2007, 214). With Stephen Mallatratt’s play-text The Woman in Black (1989) occurring within the four walls of a theatre, Kipps’ retelling of his encounter with the Woman in Black brings forth not only elements of classic Gothic theatre convention but also engages theatre audiences in a way that places emphasis on space and setting that Susan Hill’s novel cannot do as vividly (McEvoy, 2007, 214). Whilst this essay is focused upon the novel and stage adaptations of The Woman in Black, comparing the relationship between this ghost story and its theatrical and film counterparts suggests the effectiveness of theatre liveness in representing elements of the supernatural.

This essay aims to explore the challenges of bringing the modern ghost story to life upon the stage, with emphasis on The Woman in Black’s movement from the written word to the spoken word. The main body of this essay will draw comparisons and differences between how Susan Hill presents elements of the supernatural on the page, how Stephen Mallatratt intended for the supernatural to be shown on stage and how director, Robin Herford, presented these in his production of The Woman in Black (2019). To analyse these formats and their influence in bringing this ghost story to the stage, the focus will be brought upon how the liveness of the theatre sets out to exploit such elements of the supernatural. The main arguments include the use of light and sound to create an atmosphere, how the various examples of uncanny doubleness found in the play-text and the production can be used as agents of horror and how the varying narrative structures of the story’s formats lead to a crisis of authorial voice.

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