There is much mystery, suspense and many scary moments at the Playhouse where the touring production of The Woman in Black is now playing.
A show that has been on the West End stage for 21 years still has the power to frighten an audience. The play, from a novel by Susan Hill, adapted by Stephen Mallatratt, innovatively starts as the telling of a tale by an old man, Arthur Kipps (Robert Demeger), who needs to purge his soul of the horrors he witnessed as a young man. He turns to an actor (Peter Bramhill) in order to tell his story.
This production cleverly weaves the ‘acting’ and the real flashback story together. It makes for an interesting concept, as we are forever being kept on our toes as the action switches from memory to reality.
The set is, at first, sparse, and we are asked to use our imagination – the most powerful prop of all. Gradually the backdrop changes through the use of gauze curtains and the projection of gothic images.
The tale is gradually revealed through the actor taking on the role of the young Kipps and the older man various other characters. Using just a change of coats with different accents and mannerisms he convinces us he is those rural folk, reluctant to tell what they know of a decrepit forbidding mansion set on an island in the marshes only reached when the causeway is revealed at low tide.
In this pile an old lady has died, and the young Kipps, a solicitors clerk, is sent to unravel what is hidden in a pile of old papers. At the woman’s funeral he espies a shadowy figure in black bonnet and cloak. He sees her several times more. Locals are reluctant to tell him who she is or what has occurred.
As the mystery deepens and the tension mounts the audience is jolted into palm gripping moments as we are drawn into the action. For the audience is an unwitting part of the plot, as we find at the beginning of the action.
The use of atmospheric lighting, sound effects, and perfect timing all add to the chilling denouement of the tale.
There’s first class acting by both Deneger and Bramhill, who also intersperse much needed touches of humour which relieves the strain, though this counterpoint only highlights the real terror of the narrative.
Superbly directed by Robin Herford, The Woman in Black leaves you with a revelation you did not see coming.
And as you depart the theatre and go out into the light evening air you realise just how far you have been sucked into this chilling story.
- Jeanette Smith