Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s classic ghost story still has the power to thrill and terrify in equal measure.
On the eve of National Ghost Hunting Day (30 September), what better way to get into the swing of things than to take part in a ghost tour at the Fortune Theatre, home to one of the most thrilling and scary shows currently playing in London.
Led by Dr B Vilder, the tour introduced fellow theatregoers to Gerald the ghost (who likes to occupy seat F17 every year on the 7th November- just in case you want to book his seat) as well as taking us all through a history of the theatre and its surroundings.
This was an appropriate way to begin an evening, building up the suspense and excitement (or in some cases apprehension) for what lay ahead during The Woman in Black.
Robin Hereford’s wonderfully atmospheric production has been scaring audiences at the Fortune theatre since 1989 and still feels as fresh as ever – no matter how many times you want to put yourself through it.
For those who haven’t been quite brave enough yet to see it, the story follows Arthur Kipps who wishes to lay the ghosts of his past (so to speak) to rest by retelling his experience of visiting Eel Marsh House and his encounters with the mysterious Woman in Black.
Adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt, this slow burning suspense thriller does take a bit of time to get into particularly during the opening moments in which the set up of the ‘performance’ between Arthur Kipps and the actor is slightly dragged out. But once the audience is taken into the world of Eel Marsh House, the production becomes gradually but intensely gripping – capturing the audience’s attention and imagination effectively.
Due to Michael Holt’s basic set, the audience is forced to imagine what each location looks like but given the descriptive language of the script this actually adds to the effectiveness and the vividness of the production as a whole – never distracting from the story or the characters.
By completely focusing on the details of the story, the unexpected appearances of the Woman in Black really do take the audience by surprise and you are never entirely sure of where she is going to appear next. The same goes for the sound effects – even the sound of the train as Arthur leaves London catch the audience off guard (including this writer).
What also makes Robin Herford’s production clever and intense is the use of a cast of only two to carry the story through to its conclusion, making the performance seem even more intimate and personal.
New cast members Terence Wilton (Arthur Kipps) and James Byng (The Actor) both offer up strong performances that keep the audience as engaged as possible from beginning to end. Terence Wilton conveys Arthur’s sense of terror but awareness he needs to make peace with the past feel natural, when it be extremely easy to go over the top. While in contrast, James Byng’s natural curiosity and encouragement as The Actor is a great foil as he asks the questions that the audience are naturally thinking about.
But if there is anything that is slightly disappointing about The Woman in Black it is the ending; which feels oddly anti-climatic given the thrills and excitement during the middle section. It feels slightly lacking in impact or any real resolution – yes it is slightly chilling but it doesn’t quite make sense given the story that emerges.
However, there is no doubting that this is a show which is difficult to write about without giving too much away – and that is a testament to its brilliance in delivery and technique. It is still a production that has the power to scare and thrill audiences all these years on and worthy of a watch if you haven’t seen it yet.
The Woman in Black is currently booking at the Fortune Theatre until the 3rd March 2018. To book tickets visit: Ticketmaster.co.uk, ATG Tickets, Discount Theatre.com, Last Minute.com, Theatre Tickets Direct.co.uk, Love Theatre.com, Theatre People.com , UK Tickets.co.uk or through Love London Love Culture here.