Writer: Susan Hill
Adaptor: Stephan Mallatratt
Director: Robin Herford
Reviewer: Carol Lovatt
The imagination is a powerful tool in theatre. In The Woman in Black, it is teased and manipulated to create an atmospheric and ghoulish experience that penetrates the audience as if struck by a lightning bolt. It is how this production plays with the mind that makes it so eerily disturbing and leaves a lingering menacing impact on the delicate psyche. As such, the stage adaptation by Stephen Mallatratt of Susan Hill’s original novel is both powerful and memorable and very much accounts for why it has been running in London theatres for the last 27 years and touring continually too. Put simply, it is a very unnerving thriller.
Interestingly, The Woman in Black is a play about theatre. It is also about horror and the capacity of a script to disturb and create tension. The beauty also lies in the simplicity of the stage and the cast. Two actors and very few props somehow evoke a multitude of settings and emotions as if there were a much larger and busier presence. The lighting and sound is without doubt key to creating a blood-curdling experience for the theatre goer and quite often, in conjunction with the power of the imagination, the mantra of ‘less is more’ ensures an atmosphere of claustrophobic and spine-chilling magnitude. This is not a play for those who are easily scared or may have a weak heart. In parts, it is petrifying
Like all good ghost stories, The Woman in Black is also about tragedy. In this case, the pain and loss of a child and the aftermath and consequences which follow such unexpected events. Set about 100years ago, the play focuses on the desperate need for a man to tell his story and the quest to enable it to reach widely and the use of the theatre to ensure that it does.
David Acton plays Arthur Kipps, the character who needs to be heard and who has experienced horrendous events with devastating consequences. Acton gives a heartfelt and poignant performance as a man who has lived through unexplainable and frightening occurrences and has survived to tell the tale, although sadly, those close to him have not. Matthew Spencer who plays the Actor who Kipps employs to tell the tale, is brilliant in his capacity to direct the piece of writing presented to him and to enact the role of the younger Kipps with such power and authority and ultimately, credibility. The Actor has a personal part in that story, as Kipps did, and it is the interconnectedness of the roles and the narrative which ensure a high level of engagement with the audience as it all develops and unfolds.
It is a chilling tale made more spine-tingling by the seemingly everyday credibility of a story of love and loss but with a twist which shreds the nerves through exceptional theatrical craftsmanship. The Woman in Black is a masterpiece in horror and a play which is unforgettable.
Runs until Saturday 22 October 2016