The Woman in Black - 20 May 2015 Review
If you like scary stories, this show is for you!Having seen the show about five years ago I expected to be as cool as a cucumber when watching the West End’s only Thriller, The Woman in Black, for a second time …I wasn’t!
Stephen Mallatratt’s stage version of Susan Hill’s horror fiction begins in the realms of meta-theatre; a play within a play. The audience sees old man Arthur Kipps enlisting the help of a young actor to tell his horrific life story until play and life become one haunting jumble. As successful and charming a theatrical device this may be, I felt it halted action from setting in motion for far too long and it was only about half way through the first act that the story began to unfold and I became fully engaged (and terrified!) in what was happening on stage.
The choice of set is simple yet effective and encourages audience members to use their imagination above all which is perhaps one of the reasons behind the productions survival across several generations. For instance a smokey stage and a lighting stencil of a vast mansion are all that there is to depict the marshland beyond the deceased Alice Drablow’s manor, leaving the audience’s mind to question what might be lurking in the mist. Furthermore the audience was able to imagine Arthur’s canine companion through a series of well executed mimes and actor reactions. The imaginary dog became likeable which added to the poignancy of Arthur’s isolation as he ran free from Eel Marsh House thus leaving the man alone with the ghosts of the past.
The show has many ‘jumpy’ moments; the use of lighting is especially effective when revealing the ghostly figure of Alice Drablow in several unexpected places. The success of this perhaps lies in the intimacy of the theatre itself; at under 500 seats it is one of the smallest venues in the West End, so when the mysterious woman appears among the audience their shock and fear is passed through everyone in the room.
The production is clever as a whole; the twist at the end is especially surprising and the ghostly illusion is maintained throughout the play as the Woman in Black does not appear for a curtain call. Nonetheless I could not help but feel as if the success of the production lay only in a few moments of shock induced terror – it is the jumpy moments that attract audiences (mainly school parties) night after night. However, whatever the draw, this show is a solid couple of hours of entertainment in a more honest and direct style of performance that differs from the vast majority of other shows on the West End.
20 May 2015, Fortune Theatre