The Woman in Black – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Writer: Susan Hill

Adaptor: Stephen Mallatratt

Director: Robin Herford

Reviewer: Dan English

A dark and sinister presence has overcome the Orchard Theatre thi OK s Halloween with the arrival of the touring production of acclaimed thriller The Woman In Black.

One of theatre’s most well-known pieces, The Woman In Black sees a lawyer employ an unnamed actor to perform the horrors which blight the former in an attempt to seemingly exorcise his demons. The premise is simple, yet the execution is spectacular.

The production relies on the audience’s imagination rather than elaborate sets and glossy designs, and it is this psychological impact that leaves a lasting impression. This production combines shock moments with long, slow tension builds with terrifying payoffs that have patrons gripped to their chairs. The production remains a fantastic example of how much can be achieved with a small cast and a strong script.

Daniel Easton is excellent as the actor tasked with recreating the play’s mysterious events. Easton looks at ease as he drives the uneasy narrative forward, coping well with slick scene changes and the effects which punctuate the horror of the performance. Easton’s timing is strong and lends itself well to such uneasy subject material, offering moments of genuine tension and leaving the audience on tenterhooks constantly.

Robert Goodale is Mr Kipps, the man desperate to retell his story and exorcise the demons which plague him. Goodale captures the nervousness of a man haunted by his past experiences, and his shaky delivery is so realistic that it feels genuine in the opening exchanges. What makes Goodale’s performance standout, however, is his ability to multi-role. While Easton commands as a younger version of Kipps is the play within the play, Goodale is left with the unenviable task of recreating the numerous figures his character encounters. It is with aplomb that Goodale creates this unique individual, driving this two-person play forward well.

Michael Holt’s design is simple yet effective, creating the eerily bare stage that allows for maximum thrill and fear potential. The dull grey and browns create the appropriately gloomy atmosphere that embodies this piece. The thrust staging also forces the horror into the audiences, making the first few rows especially squirm uncomfortably across the two-hour piece.

Without giving too much away, this is a spellbinding performance. One could argue that the scares and thrills take a little while to kick in, marred largely in the first half with painfully drawn out exposition, but when they do, it is clear to see just why this production remains the most terrifying thing on stage.

Runs until Saturday 2nd November, then continues tour. | Image – shows previous cast

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