★★★★ | Set in an old theatre in the late 1950’s, a solicitor, Arthur Kipps, enlists the assistance of a young actor to tell his story. His tale revolves around a terrifying incident when he was younger, when he travelled to Eel Marsh House to settle the estate of a long standing deceased client. Initially finding a conspiracy of secrecy from the locals, he makes his way across the Nine Lives Causeway, which is cut off at high tide. Alone in the mansion, he is plagued by the sound of a pony and trap, an unexplained banging noise and a door which appears to be locked from the inside. What secrets does the estate hold? What lurks in the swirling mist…? And who is the woman in black he keeps seeing?
This chilling and effective ghost story is beautifully crafted and uses simple techniques to create a very taught atmosphere in the theatre. The lighting design in particular was incredibly well done – who would have thought that a dark stage with just a door highlighted would draw worried mumblings from those around you?
The production slowly cranks up the tension, which quite literally draws you to the edge of your seat and then throws you back into it with “cattle prod” jolts that elicited genuine screams of fright from the audience. The narrative of the piece draws you in; and the production avoids spoon feeding you the story, leaving you as the audience to create your own horrors in your imagination. The set, staging and props were remarkably effective in their simplicity and created an atmosphere where you held your breath with the central character as he explored the darkness. Setting the show in a theatre made you feel very much part of the story and the dark atmosphere and low level lighting only add to the gloominess and intimacy of the piece.
The performances from the two leads were both very good, with Matthew Spencer playing the part of The Actor and Young Kipps, and David Acton providing the elderly Kipps and the other characters he comes across. It’s a production which shows just how effective a simply staged double hander could be; and the way in which the audience is manipulated via the events unfolding on stage is testament to the quality of writing behind the show.
This show is faithful to its original source material, the book by Susan Hill, rather than the 2012 film; and The Woman In Black is well crafted fireside ghost story which proves that there is more to what is unseen than what is seen. This show is a chilling pre-Halloween treat and a perfect way to spend a dark, stormy winter evening.
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.