Writer: Susan Hill
Adaptor: Stephen Mallatratt
Director: Robin Hereford
Reviewer: John Roberts
The Woman in Black has been scaring audiences in the West End and across the country for close to three decades thanks to Robin Hereford’s spine-chilling production of Susan Hill’s short novella.
Adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt, we are gently led into the dark past of Mrs. Drablow and her house in Crythin Gifford and the secrets that befall the people of the town. Using the framing device of an actor to relive Kipp’s tale helps keep the theatrical world very present and allows the story to stay central to everything that happens in this quickly paced two-hour story.
Overall the production is tight and the simplicity of Michael Holt’s stage design lends itself to Hereford’s physical adaptation brilliantly; there are no gimmicks here, this is a well thought out design where everything is nothing and nothing is everything. Kevin Sleep’s lighting design teases the tension and atmosphere from every moment and helps focus the audience perfectly on certain moments within the play and Rod Mead’s sound design effortlessly transports us from train station to windy moor with ease.
With a new cast every nine months, there is always something new to see with the production each pair of actors bringing their own take on Arthur Kipps and The Actor, and here David Acton (Kipps) and Matthew Spencer (Actor) manage to find plenty of humour in the piece, arguably more so than any other pairing this reviewer has seen before – this helps balance the darker moments beautifully and keeps us on a big dipper of emotions. Acton’s portrayal of Kipps is wonderfully nuanced and the journey his character goes on in reliving his horrific nightmare is touching and equally disturbing. Spencer lends his character of the Actor an air of confidence and gravitas that grabs the audience by the hand and leads them through the story with dark assurance.
That said, it must be noted that on opening night at The Lowry, certain moments in the piece felt like it missed the beat, meaning elements that should have had the audience jumping out of their seats, merely just tingled their spine. Perhaps this is due to the huge space the show has to fill in the massive Lyric Theatre and while one can understand the commercial side of playing such a space, the story and indeed the show would benefit far better being placed in the more intimate Quay’s space.
The Woman in Black is still a masterpiece in theatrical storytelling, there are no gimmicks or big set pieces to “Wow” an audience with, and, the fact that it is now the second longest running production in the West End is testament to its incredible durability and flexibility in both casting and storytelling.
Runs until 26 March 2017 | Image: Tristram Kenton