The Woman in Black

In London theatre, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

★★★★ Kings Theatre, Edinburgh: Tue 14 – Sat 18 April 2015 Then touring There’s a terrifying tale waiting to be told. The Woman in Black, the 1987 stage production that inspired the 2012 film of the same name, shows just how a ghost story ought to be told – delivering two hours of conflict, action and suspense. There’s a balance to be struck engaging an audience. It’s a lesson Solicitor Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James) has to learn. Set in an empty theatre, Mr Kipps has one goal: to tell his story. His tale is of a chilling encounter that affected him when he visited the creepy, isolated Eel Marsh mansion of recently deceased Mrs Drablow. But the story can’t be told by Mr Kipps alone, he lacks the skills to make anyone hear him. He’s a quiet, nervous, anxious, stuttering man. Cue The Actor (Matt Connor), the man that will turn Kipps’ story into a performance. They’re a contrasting pair, one so bold and extravagant that he could burst into a rousing, musical number with jazz hands at any moment, the other so timid and unassuming that he seems (deservedly so) overwhelmed by life. The Woman in Black begins modestly, the first act delivered with an air of apprehension and a sense of nervous excitement. The actors playfully bounce off each other as the story begins to emerge. As the scenes unfold the complexity, intensity and suspense grows – through the acting, set, lighting and sound effects. Each introduced by The Actor as part of the story within a story, they take on their own eerie vitality – courtesy of lighting by Kevin Sleep and sound by Gareth Owen. The culmination is a harrowing experience that keeps you on the edge of your seat – and at times a few inches above it. cloying, suffocating atmosphere The Woman in Black doesn’t lack in suspense. But suspense alone cannot sustain an audience’s attention. The genius of this production is the combination of Susan Hill’s writing and Robin Herford’s direction expertly alternating comedy and suspense. The comedy is perfectly timed, to relax in readiness for the next onslaught, the next panic, the next terror. So too the framing of the story, a recounted performance consisting Mr Kipps and The Actor, serves as a break to the cloying, suffocating atmosphere in the theatre. With a click of The Actor’s fingers the stage is flooded with light, the tension dispelled and the world once again safe. Or is it? Setting the stage: A scene from The Woman In Black. Photo: Tristram Kenton The cast are enthralling. James and Connor switch between a multiplicity of convincing characters. In fact, in places it would appear that self-confessed non-performer Mr Kipps is a little too comfortable delivering his parts of the performance. However, just as this happens, his true character breaks through and The Actor snaps the ‘real world’ back. That said, the story and the ‘real world’ aren’t all that distinct after all – it’s the same world, just a different time and context. We are reminded of this throughout, the bleeding of the story into the ‘reality’ subtly done at first through a facial expression or a sound, and then somewhat less subtly as the eponymous lady creeps into the tale. The creation of her shadowy presence is simply terrifying. The half-hidden jerky movement and intimations of someone else present are the stuff of which nightmares are made. So much so that the reveal is more of a shattering of illusion than a relief. Proving that the most scary bits happen in the imagination. The Woman in Black is a good old fashioned ghost story, full of psychological drama where the horror (almost always) teeters on the boundary between the stage and the imagination. The frights are predictable and can be spotted a mile away, but that doesn’t stop them from delivering successfully. This production has been running for 28 years for good reason, it’s one hell of a terrifying tale! Running time: 2 hours (including interval) King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ Tuesday 14 – Saturday 18 April 2015 Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.30 pm Tickets and details on the King’s website: http://www.edtheatres.com/womaninblack   The Woman in Black on tour 2015: 14 – 18 Apr 2015 Edinburgh Kings Theatre 0131 529 6000 Book online 20 – 25 Apr 2015 Glasgow Theatre Royal 0844 871 7647 Book online 28 Apr – 2 May 2015 Salford The Lowry 0843 208 6010 Book online 5 – 9 May 2015 Cardiff New Theatre 02920 878889 Book online 11 – 16 May 2015 Poole Lighthouse 0844 406 8666 Book online 18 – 23 May 2015 Plymouth Theatre Royal 01752 267222 Book online 25 – 30 May 2015 Bradford Alhambra 01274 432000 Book online 1 – 6 Jun 2015 Malvern Theatres 01684 892277 Book online 8 – 13 Jun 2015 Wycombe Swan Theatre 01494 512000 Book online 16 – 20 Jun 2015 Buxton Opera House 0845 127 2190 Book online 22 – 27 Jun 2015 Llandudno Venue Cymru 01492 872001 Book online 29 Jun – 4 Jul 2015 Dunfermline Alhambra Theatre 01383 740384 Book online Crossing the Nine Lives causeway. Photo: Tristram Kenton ENDS
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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.

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