Mentioning The Woman in Black is like regaling a ghost story that you’d heard as a child. Most people will have heard it, those that have heard are scared of it and those that haven’t will listen wide eyed as you recount the tale of Mrs Drablow and The Woman in Black. A similar tale occurred when I mentioned going to see the play on social media. “It’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen!” “Oh my god, I saw that when I was younger and it’s so bad”.
For 28 years The Woman in Black has haunted the psyche of all that have seen it and it still manages to delivers the jumps and screams of new audiences both on film (featuring Daniel Radcliffe) and on stage in the touring production. The production landed at the Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent this week and ignoring the warnings that I would jump out of my skin, I headed along to the press night on Tuesday (with a glass of wine in my system for dutch courage).
Based on Susan Hill’s novel of the same name, the play adapted by Stephen Mallatratt, The Woman in Black has become one of the longest running shows in West End History and has present over 10,000 performances.
The stage adaptation takes the novel by Susan Hill and creates a play within a play. It presents us with the lead character in the book, Arthur Kipps (David Acton), as an elderly man. Years after being tormented by The Woman in Black he seeks the talents of a young actor (Matthew Spencer)to help him tell his story, in manuscript format to his closest family in a bid to lift the weight of the horrors that went before from his shoulders.
I’m one of the few to have not seen the film or read the book and as such the stage adaption seemed an intriguing concept. With only two lead actors and minimal staging, a seemingly simple format is transformed into a spine tingling and impressive performance through the use of audio, video and clever acting. The first half builds slowly with a somewhat comic melodrama between Kipps and ‘The Actor’, presumably designed to strip away any mental preparation the audience may have made and slowly lures you into a feeling of safety before scaring you silly.
As Act Two approaches both actors have come into their own, switching between current day narration and being engulfed in Kipps tale. By bringing to life Eel Marsh House, introducing The Woman in Black and Kipp taking on the role of various characters within his own book the atmosphere in the auditorium could be cut by a knife. At each interruption in the story telling I found myself imploring the tale to continue.
To reveal any more would perhaps run over into spoiler territory, but through simple staging, clever lighting and faintly gauzed scenes, Stephen Mallatratt successfully recounts the tale of Arthur Kipps and Jennet Humfrye and in turn torments its audience and brings forth screams and gasps of breath.
I didn’t find myself sleeping with the light on that night but I certainly joined the masses in jumping a mile and left the theatre full of excitable of chatter and praise for the actors, sound & lighting crew alike.
The Woman in Black runs at the Regent Theatre until Saturday 22nd October. Tickets are available online or via the box office.