Writer: Susan Hill
Adaptation: Stephen Mallatratt
Director: Robin Hereford
Reviewer: Lu Greer
The Woman in Black has, at this point, become a household name thanks to the original story, the blockbuster movie and of course the play. The stage version sets itself apart somewhat from the others, in that in forgoes the dozen or so characters in preference of a two man show on an almost bare stage. The show opens on Arthur Kipps attempting to learn some simple acting techniques in order to do his tale justice in retelling to a small group of family and friends. As he is led by The Actor, the show subtly moves from a simple telling into the compelling and terrifying events at Eel Marsh House. After thirty years of the story being told, however, the question must surely be raised: Just what more can be brought to the story of that house?
In each telling of The Woman in Black two new actors are given the opportunity to bring to life the characters in their own unique way. The current pairing of David Acton and Matthew Spencer bring a rather more humorous energy than many are used to, giving a light and shade effect to the show with their comedic moments. This humour is particularly successful early on in the play as Arthur Kipps begins to learn to act and easily draws the audience into a false sense of security making the scares later all the more startling.
The use of a basic stage means that focus is naturally on the two actors, however, this show would have little effect on the audience without the combined efforts of Kevin Sleep (lighting) and Gareth Owen (sound). As the story begins, the bright lights and simple backdrop allow the audience to almost believe that they have just inadvertently stumbled into Arthur Kipps’ acting lesson. As the story comes to life, the lights dip and the effects ramp up, it is easy to be transported to the heart of the action. The proof of this is seen in the faces of the audience as they catch a glimpse of that famously shadowed figure.
While the tension is certainly held, it does at times feel as though a smaller venue would be far more effective. The large venue of the Norwich Theatre Royal, of course, means more people are able to see the show, but the lack of a central aisle means some of the audience miss out of seeing the Woman in Black appearing, and the sheer size of the stage pulls the audience out of the tensest moments. This is particularly as an issue for the many returning audience members, as that removal makes it all the clearly that the show can’t be said to genuinely offer anything new.
Overall, the movement from the bare stage of the theatre into a haunted world is effective and done subtly enough to have the audience jumping. The use of humour throughout works well to amp up the later fears of the audience, and while some of the Woman’s appearances raise little more than a titter there are moments that still have the audience gasping (and, on one occasion, screaming). This performance doesn’t truly offer anything new, however, the ominous atmosphere will still have you glancing over your shoulder on your way home, and leaving the lights on when you get there.
Runs until 22 April 2017 | Image: Contributed