It’s been over 25 years since this infamous theatrical spook story first took to the stage. Since then horror has moved onto the postmodern thrill of the Blair Witch Project; freaky Far Eastern films such as The Ring and the extremities of the torture porn genre. So does Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s novella still have the power to scare? Well... yes, but the thrills here the stuff of cosy campfire stories, not pure pant-wetting terror.
Framed as a play within a play The Woman In Black follows the elderly Arthur Kipps as he seeks the help of a young actor to retell a ghost story. The story being what happened to Kipps 30 years earlier as a young solicitor visiting a mysterious house in a marsh to tie up a dead woman’s affairs.
Think of the tropes of the classic ghost story - haunted houses, locked doors, dangerous fogs and ominous graveyards - and you’ll find them all here. But what The Woman in Black lacks in originality it makes up for in an assured execution that layers on the tension until you are gripping your chair in fear.
As a two-hand play kudos must go to both actors Julian Forsythe and Anthony Eden, who conjure up the unsettling tale on a nearly bare stage with the minimum of props. Forsythe in particular tackles a number of roles - including inn keepers, coachmen and rich landowners - with chameleon-like aplomb. It's not all one-note terror however and the pair are also adept at the comic timing that elicits as many laughs as screams. They are aided by some incredibly effective lighting and sound that keep the audience suitably unsettled and moves the actions swiftly from a country inn to a misty causeway to a dilapidated mansion.
Of course, half the scares come from the surprises so much of the plot can’t be given away but if you are after some old-fashioned frights delivered with skill then this is a fantastically phantom-filled night out.
- James Stanley