She had a ghostly pallor and a dreadful expression, she wore clothes that were out of keeping with the styles of the present-day; she had kept her distance from me and she had not spoken. Something emanating from her still, silent presence, in each case by a grave, had communicated itself to me so strongly that I had felt indescribable repulsion and fear. And she had appeared and then vanished in a way that surely no real, living, fleshly human being could possibly manage to do.
The Woman In Black returns to The New Theatre this week, and it is not for the faint hearted. Adapted from Susan Hill’s epic ghostly tale this show has been terrifying readers, film lovers and theatre goers for decades and it’s easy to see why. We plucked up our courage and braved a trip to the theatre for the opening night to see the supernatural sensation for ourselves.
Susan Hill’s 1983 masterpiece has evolved a number of times through the years, into film adaptations, audio dramas, reprints and more. But one thing that has remained a constant for over 30 years has been the stage production, devised by Stephen Mallatratt in December 1987. The show has been so popular that it has continued an unbroken run of performances in the West End’s Fortune Theatre since 1989, making it the second longest running play in London behind Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap. So, it’s fair to say audiences can’t get enough of Eel Marsh House and the spectre in black that haunts its halls.
Although essentially unchanged in all that time, the production still manages to feel innovative and exhilarating. The use of staging, lighting and sound are employed to great effect, sucking the audience into the show. The modern custodian of horror literature, Stephen King, once said: “nothing is so frightening as what’s behind the closed door”, and The Woman In Black takes this concept and turns it up to 11. The tension is built and broken with absolute precision, ensuring you’ll be holding your breath in anticipation and gasping with relief when the final curtain falls.
For such a small cast, you would think the show would feel smaller in scale than other productions, but it’s quite the opposite. The theatrical experience in both Malcolm James and Mark Hawkins was evident in their portrayals of Arthur Kipps and the unnamed Actor. It’s really their performances and seemingly real fear that brings the story to life. I cannot give praise to the actor portraying the Woman In Black herself. It is tradition to omit her from the cast list, as if she was never there…
Overall, although The Woman In Black really did scare us half to death, we absolutely loved it. There is something about ghost stories that never cease to intrigue us no matter how much they terrify us, and this show is no exception to the rule. The ingenuity of its portrayal, superb performances and classic plot kept us on the edge of our seats the entirety of the show. Not one to be missed whether you’re a fan of horror or a lover of classic mystery theatre.