Writer: Susan Hill
Adaptor: Stephen Mallatratt
Director: Robin Herford
Designer: Michael Holt
Reviewer: Amy Taylor
Robin Herford’s The Woman in Black, which celebrates its 25th birthday this year, is second only to Agatha Christie’s enduring, The Mousetrap, in terms of longevity. And the reason for the play’s continuing popularity lies in its simplicity; it harks back to a simpler time and evokes classic horror tropes; the vengeful spirit, the sceptic-turned-believer, and fear of the unknown. Not bad for a piece written in the 1980s.
Beginning as ‘a play within a play’, The Actor (Matt Connor) and Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James) attempt to tell a “story that must be told”, a tale that sees the young solicitor, Kipps sent to a remote part of England to wind up the reclusive Alice Drablow’s estate. But nothing is as it first seems and not all ghosts have been laid to rest.
Susan Hill’s story, which was originally published in 1983, before being adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt, then adapted for the screen twice, has an element of innocence, of an authentic timelessness that can cause the most cynical audience to ponder if haunting can really be possible.
While both Connor and James must be celebrated for their turns as The Actor and Arthur Kipps, this play would be undoubtedly poorer without the work of the designer, Michael Holt, the lighting designer, Kevin Sleep and the sound designer, Gareth Owen, who create a haunting and unsettling world with a few subtle, and some not so subtle, changes.
The Woman in Black is a play which continues to thrill and entertain people every year, and perhaps this is because it’s a well-put together piece of theatre. Perhaps it’s because the subject material was so rich in themes and scares. Or perhaps it’s because the mysterious woman in black with the wasted face is the perfect villain; a spirit determined to destroy the lives of others as hers was once destroyed so long ago.
Not as much a classic as a theatrical rite of passage, The Woman in Black is an absolute must-see.
Runs until Sat 18th April, then touring, including Theatre Royal Glasgow from 20th – 25th April tickets here.