Writer: Susan Hill
Director: Robin Herford
Reviewer: Rebecca Cohen
It is the play that is dubbed ‘the most terrifying live theatre experience in the world’, and one that is celebrating three decades of success on London’s West End. The Woman in Black has been regularly touring the UK since 1989, and although the current adaptation is gripping and well cast, its showing at The Grand Theatre in Blackpool is not as spine-tingling or scary as you would hope or imagine.
The production is based on the novel by Susan Hill and has become more well-known in recent years for its film adaptation starring the Harry Potter series’ leading man Daniel Radcliffe. This piece of theatre is a little like the long-running murder mystery The Mousetrap in the fact that the experience is heightened and made more enjoyable by keeping as much as is humanely possible secret from a prospective audience member. Without giving too much away, the story is in itself a play within a play – an actor helping lawyer Arthur Kipps reenact a horrifying time in his life when he was sent to Eel Marsh House to attend the funeral of the reclusive Mrs Drablow
It may be that the hype of this play has resulted in an exaggeration of just how frightening it is, but far more likely is that the audience’s positioning and surroundings play a huge part on just how immersed they can get into the terrifying plotline. During this reviewer’s experience, theatre staff distracted from the spectacle of the play by speaking during quiet intervals and pacing loudly up and down the back of the circle. It is also far more likely you will get lost in the theatricality and intensifying moments (quite literally, when the dry ice comes into play), if positioned somewhere in the stalls.
Criticisms aside, a two-man production is no easy ask at the best of times, especially one that has to thrill and captivate an audience for nearly two hours. Robert Goodale as Arthur Kipps and Daniel Easton are hugely talented actors, and it is their storytelling far more than the actual moments of horror that keep the momentum and suspense of the show going. A few sound level issues aside, especially during some of Goodale’s dialogue, the duo can’t be faulted – managing to intersperse dark and gritty moments with twinges of black humour on a sparse, yet highly effective, set.
There is a reason that this play is continuing to sell-out audiences up and down the country, while maintaining its position in the heart of the capital. Like many experiences, be it a haunted mansion or a festival, a lot is dependent on the atmosphere surrounding you and where you are in relation to ‘the action’. In this instance, you can see the production is there, you can see how well thought out it is, and on another day of the week it may well have been perceived so differently. The minds of playwright Stephen Mallatratt and director Robin Herford are superbly intelligent and creative, and it is clear they have produced a piece of theatre that is unique and able to evolve through the years.
While disappointing on this occasion, this is a not a production that should be given up on, and one that most definitely has the provisional license to thrill.
Runs until 14 September 2019 | Image shows previous cast