THE WOMAN IN BLACK
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 22nd May, 2017
It’s unusual to have a long-running show in the West End (27 years and counting!) that isn’t yet another musical or The Mousetrap. The longevity of The Woman In Black is testament to its brilliance – everyone should go and see it at least once. Even when you know what’s coming, the show is still a suspenseful thrill-ride. And now, with this touring production, you have your chance.
Ostensibly, a two-hander, Stephen Mallatratt’s masterly adaptation of Susan Hill’s chilling ghost story keeps its theatricality to the fore. Arthur Kipps (David Acton) has recruited an actor (Matthew Spencer) to rehearse the telling of his own experiences with the eponymous apparition. Using only basic furniture to represent every location, along with recorded sound effects and well-placed lighting, their narrative works on our imagination – and this is what makes the stage version infinitely superior to the film. Nothing can scare us more than our own minds. It begins with humour as the performance style is established and between scenes from Kipps’s story, the men drop in and out of the framing device – there is an ongoing story here that will also come to a chilling conclusion… Gradually, Kipps’s story takes over and the atmosphere grips, the action surprises, makes us jump.
It’s a real showcase for the two performers. Matthew Spencer is excellent as the effusive ‘actor’ taking on the role of the younger Kipps – it is his reactions that create much of the terror – while David Acton demonstrates his range, first as the nervous, ineffectual orator Kipps and then as everyone else in the story. Such is the skill of the two that we are made to care about a little dog, Spider, that isn’t even there!
Robin Herford’s direction pushes all the right buttons in all the right places. Especially effective are the silences, keeping us on edge. Michael Holt’s deceptively simple design sits well within the Grand’s ornate proscenium. Similarly, Kevin Sleep’s straightforward lighting proves you don’t need realism to ignite the imagination. The whole enterprise is decidedly spooky and fills us with dread. And delight. Scaring audiences at the theatre is difficult to pull off, with all the coughing and fidgeting and the nervous laughter, but The Woman In Black continues to put the willies up us (if that’s not a contradiction!) and long may she continue!
Go and see her before she comes to see you!!