The Woman in Black | Tour | Review
PW Productions Ltd
Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the novel by Susan Hill
Theatre Royal Brighton,
August 30 – September 4
If you are one of the 7 million people who has seen a production of The Woman in Black (and that’s just in the West End) over the last 30 years, you will be familiar with this ghostly tale set in 1921 and 1951. If you have read Susan Hill’s brilliant novel you will recall it as a classic gothic horror story in the style of Edgar Allan Poe with a good helping of Henry James. It is variously described as ‘spine-chilling’, ‘terrifying’ and ‘guaranteed to make your flesh creep’. The book certainly had this effect on me.
Having seen several different productions – and the film with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead – I was expecting to experience a similar effect, naturally somewhat muted as I already knew what to expect to the greater degree.
This version was performed as the traditional two-hander with Antony Eden as ‘The Actor’ and Robert Goodale as Arthur Kipps. Both actors have appeared in an impressive number of stage and television productions, Antony Eden having his own theatre company (Dead Letter Perfect) and is Associate Director for this production of The Woman in Black.
It is difficult with such a well known and well loved fictional ghost story to adapt it with a fresh originality and to produce the same chilling effects. Not having seen this particular adaptation before I found the opening sequences a tad confusing until I realised that it was a play within a play, and as it progressed it appeared to be a play within a play within a play …..
The set was minimal and static which is a good thing when Susan Hill’s story describes several very different locations and involves a good amount of travelling to and fro via different methods of transport, and so these scenes are shrewdly improvised. The play opens with the old ‘Mr Kipps’ being cajoled into retelling the horrific story of his time at Eel Marsh House,
which has haunted him all his life, by ‘The Actor’ but only by performing it as a play. This ‘rehearsal’ goes on for some time and it is 45 minutes before the main action begins, with ‘The Actor’ (Antony Eden) taking the part of the young Arthur Kipps and Robert Goodale taking on various other parts as the solicitor Mr Bentley, Mr Daily, Jerome and Keckwick as well as old Mr Kipps and the Narrator.
There were some good sound effects – the foggy bits were brilliant! – and the set was cleverly designed in order to achieve the semblance of having several rooms. Both actors darted in and out of the ‘room’, and their various roles, in a series of flash backs to 1921 and then back to the ‘present’ 30 years later, which I found a little distracting, the continuity seemed to get a bit lost on occasion. Some of the dialogue appeared to be played for the odd laugh and the audience on this night happily obliged.
Disappointingly I didn’t experience the spine chills I’d been looking forward to – I do love the scary bits in the story. Perhaps if the Woman in Black character had popped up in the auditorium a few more times it would have been more of a shocker?
Overall however this production delivered enjoyable, sound performances, quite a tour de force as a two-hander, and there was a satisfyingly unexpected extra twist at the end which I definitely wasn’t expecting. Now that certainly was a bit unnerving …… !
2 hours including interval
Reviewer: Gill Ranson
Read an interview with Susan Hill