The Woman in Black | National Tour | Review

The Woman in Black

Theatre Royal, Brighton

26th February – 2nd March 2024

Susan Hill’s ghost story comes dramatically alive in Stephen Mallatratt’s ingenious stage adaptation which after celebrating over three decades in London’s West End, is back on tour. Robin Herford’s gripping production is a brilliantly successful study in atmosphere, illusion and controlled horror.

Arthur Kipps, a lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over him and his family by the spectre of a Woman in Black, engages a sceptical young actor, to help him tell his terrifying story and exorcise the fear that grips his soul. It all begins innocently enough, but then, as they reach further into his darkest memories, they find themselves caught up in a world of eerie marshes and moaning winds.

To be honest, the source material is not that wonderful. Hill’s tale is slightly contrived and the denouement is predictable and rather comical, however, the brilliance of this show is the adaptation which provides two actors with the opportunity to exercise every inch of their acting muscles.

I have seen the play before in London however I don’t remember being as impressed as I was with the wonderful acting talent demonstrated here. Malcolm James and Mark Hawkins are both utterly superb. James plays the central character of Arthur Kipps, a reserved and modest man who is haunted by his experiences but desperate to share his story. In the telling of this story he plays several characters, effortlessly switching between each of them with the slightest of costume changes.

Hawkins is mesmeric as the thespian who re-enacts the story by taking the part of Kipps himself. He has wild eyes which reach deep into the audience and his transformation from sceptic to terrified believer is a masterclass.

There is exquisite lighting by Kevin Sleep and an atmospheric and chilling sound design from Sebastian Frost
whist Herford manages to fuse the technical elements assuredly ensuring they serve the production rather than dominate it.

It’s always good to see a theatre full and there was a large student contingent in attendance on the opening night. No doubt, The Woman in Black is part of the school’s curriculum alongside An Inspector Calls. It would be encouraging if those who decide these things did so more imaginatively and occasionally replaced plays written 40 and 80 years ago with something a bit more contemporary.


Reviewer: Patric Kearns