It has been 21 years since Stephen Mallatrat's adaptation of the celebrated Susan Hill novel reached the West End stage.While still running successfully there, this anniversary tour brings the ghost story back out to the regions to frighten a whole new generation of theatre goers - and it is now a set text for schools.
Mr Kipps, a Victorian solicitor, enlists the help of an actor and books a theatre so he can tell his family and friends what happened to him as a young man. The actor takes over the presentation of the piece and becomes Mr Kipps as the young man with Mr Kipps himself taking on the other roles. The story develops around this play within a play, recreating with ever expanding performance techniques what happened when the young man had to travel to Eel Marsh House to deal with the estate of the now deceased Mrs Drablow.
The play is beautifully written as it slowly builds the tension and suspense within the narrative. The first half teases you into thinking that you know what will happen, but the second half holds it's own surprises! Even the hardiest theatre-goer will find themselves susceptible to the eerie atmosphere created. This is a psychological thriller which lives up to its meaning from start to finish.
Robert Demeger is simply superb as the initially rather reserved Mr Kipps, showing, with style and confidence, his development into performer and storyteller. Peter Bramhill, who plays the Actor, is a superb foil to Demeger: his brash enthusiasm receding as he creates a performance of the young Mr Kipps which appears to take more control of his emotions.
However the 'Vision' of Jennet Humfrye is somewhat spoiled by her being named in the programme. Reading the information before the play starts, you already know that the 'ghost' will make an appearance, which is a shame.
Robin Herford, who initially worked with Mallatrat on the adaptation, again takes the helm for this tour. He directs the play with a sure touch and uses Michael Holt's simple but effective set to it's full potential.
The only problem with the show lies with the audience themselves. With it being a set text, the auditorium is full of teenagers, of whom a fair amount seem to feel it is acceptable to scream loudly even when there is actually nothing scary happening. At times they even drowned out the actors and a scream sound effect used in the play was rendered less effective, because for a moment I was unsure whether it was part of the play or from the audience themsleves. I came out wishing I had seen it without these added sound effects.
However, this is still a production that demands to be seen, so if you're not of a nervous disposition, hurry to the Lowry as you are in for a 5 star, spine-chilling evening in the company of The Woman In Black.
- Helen Jones