You might have read the book, or seen one of the various film adaptations of The Woman in Black, but, as the second longest-running (non-musical) play in West End history, the stage is arguably its most successful setting. Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s book of the same name has been terrorising audiences since it was first staged in Scarborough back in 1987.
The story centres on a young solicitor, Arthur Kipps, who is summoned to Crythin Gifford, a small market town on the east coast to tie up the estate of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow; an elderly and reclusive widow who lived alone in the desolate and secluded Eel Marsh House. We follow an older Mr Kipps are he tries to recount, with the help of a young actor, the strange and terrifying events which took place at the house.
Stopping off on its National tour, The Woman in Black is a play which stands the tests of time. It’s a classic ghost story, which errs away from the kind of cheap parlour tricks employed in modern horror cinema; simultaneously keeping it simple whilst racking up the tension using sound, lighting and a cleverly designed set. With only two actors on stage (the superb Julian Forsyth’s Mr Kipps is joined by Anthony Eden playing The Actor), Robin Herford’s production relies on timing, misdirection and lulling the audience into a false sense of security. It would be wrong on me to elaborate too much into the specifics on exactly how this is achieved, but through the use of all of the above, he is able to manipulate the atmosphere inside the Lyceum into one of palpable tension and dread.
The opening of the play is very light-hearted, which is a great devise to defuse the obvious tension within the audience. Indeed, such a famous play breeds a certain trepidation, which is quickly extinguished. This only leads to a heightening apprehension which eventually erupts as the play reaches its macabre finale –Let’s just say there was more than an isolated outburst of fear from some of the more tender audience members when I saw it!
The Woman in Black is a classic play which, through simplicity, ingenuity and damn good writing, is as fresh and vital today as when it was first staged.
The Woman in Black runs until Saturday 10th November. I highly recommend going to see it. http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/the-woman-in-black-12/