Susan Hill’s well known thriller novel, The Woman in Black, adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt, relies heavily on the audiences imagination to create the eerie tension and spine-tingling fear that it is renowned for. Interestingly the show first premiered in the intimate setting of the 70 seat studio at The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough in 1987, before transferring to The West End.
Set in the 1950’s, the story unfolds in an empty Victorian theatre, where Arthur Kipps, now an old man, has hired a young actor to help to re-enact a manuscript that he has written about a ghostly, supernatural experience he endured as a young solicitor.
After an initial, but drawn out, disagreement over Arthur Kipps’ performance style, the two men agree to dramatise the story. The Actor (Matt Connor), playing a young Kipps and Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James) taking on the additional characters in the spooky tale.
Following this protracted introduction, the story that we have been waiting for finally begins. Under the direction of Robin Herford, the two actors give impressive performances and manage to generate some sense of tension as they illustrate Arthur Kipps’ spine-chilling experiences. However, this feeling of horror and uneasiness manages to get somewhat lost in the expanse of The Lowry’s Lyric theatre, giving way to audience laughter instead of gasps of horror.
The set design by Michael Holt and lighting design by Kevin Sleep deserve curtain calls in their own right. The artistic and resourceful use of lighting, sound effects and essential props was highly effective in aiding the narrative – transporting us from place to place and from character to character in a matter of seconds. And it was this which really tinkered with the audiences perception and created an unsettling atmosphere.
There are a few moments in this play that do make even the toughest and baddest of horror fans jump out of their seats, however, for the most part the production does not invest enough in the audiences imagination to generate a real chill of terror. Although, Act II does heat up with tension, the dark robed spectre does not live up to expectations and with echoes of the infamous Scream movie mask and halloween fancy dress, she isn’t a particularly scary prospect. Interestingly, the most unnerving scenes are the ones in which the low lighting and clever set designs leave your eyes searching for her silhouette in the shadows.
The Woman in Black isn’t particularly scary but it certainly is an amusing night of entertainment.
The Woman in Black runs at The Lowry, Salford until 2 May 2015 and then continues its UK tour at New Theatre, Cardiff from 5 May until 9 May 2015. For more UK tour dates for The Woman in Black please click here.