The Woman in Black (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

A scene from The Woman In Black by Susan Hill @ Fortune Theatre. Directed by Robin Herford (Taken 26-07-16) ©Tristram Kenton 07/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email:
©Tristram Kenton 

upstaged rating:

Based on Susan Hill’s novel of the same name, The Woman in Black is a chilling horror story that was adapted for the stage over 27 years ago. And yet, the late Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation remains as poignant and terrifying as it has for many years. For those unfamiliar with the plot, the play follows former lawyer Arthur Kipps, an elderly man haunted by the past and desperate to have his story told. He seeks the help of an actor, who agrees to play Kipps in a re-telling for his family and friends. Together, they perform Kipps’ tale of a secluded manor, a town struck by terror, and the reoccurring appearance of a mysterious woman in black with a wasted face.

Matthew Spencer stars as the dynamic and keen young actor, who plays Arthur Kipps in their re-telling of Kipps’ story. Despite the history of the play, Spencer breathes new life into the character and offers immense likability. As the actor, he is bold and theatrical, as Kipps, reserved and distressed. Through him, we are able to share Kipps’ trepidation and horror. However, David Acton, who plays an elderly, tormented Arthur Kipps, offers an equally exceptional performance. He brings a remarkable fragility to the character and displays some skilful character acting with the roles that Kipps plays within the story, such as the tortured land agent, Mr Jerome and the rather unforthcoming trap driver, Keckwick. The shared narration between him and Spencer was both thoroughly detailed and thrillingly suspenseful.

However, it was the interactions between Acton and Spencer on stage that were most noteworthy. Despite the suspense of the play, there were interludes of charming humour in the scenes that they shared, whichever characters they were playing. Which in part is due to the captivating writing. Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation is a great testament to the remarkable quality of his writing and paired with the direction of Robin Herford, they have created a heart-pounding and terrifying spectacle.

Although it takes a little while for the story itself to begin, this re-telling of the classic novel is both timeless and imaginative. And despite the simplicity of the set and costumes, the creative uses of lighting by Kevin Sleep and the reliance upon audience imagination create the horrifying scenes that Acton and Spencer describe. And while the use of a play-within-a-play can often fall flat, this unsettling tale does anything but.

-Megan Hyland

The Woman in Black runs at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 25th March and you can click here for tickets.

REVIEW – The Woman in Black (The Lowry)

©Tristram Kenton
©Tristram Kenton

Date: 28 APRIL 2015
Upstaged Rating: 

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.

-Kristy Stott

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.