Touring – reviewed at Cambridge Arts Theatre
Guest reviewer: Steph Lott
I don’t often enjoy horror – neither books nor films. However, when I read Susan Hill’s ghost story The Woman in Black, I found, like the tales of Edgar Allen Poe, it invades the dark corners of the mind with unspoken dread and bleak hopelessness. There is a strange thrill in being scared by a skilful storyteller.
My companion and I were discussing with a gentleman seated behind us what we have found scary in the past, and what it takes to scare someone in their 50s nowadays compared to youngsters in their teens, of which there were quite a few in the audience as The Woman in Black is a text featured in the English Literature GCSE exam. We wondered if teenagers are more hardened than us, more used to violence and gore. What I have enjoyed about Hill’s novel and other good horror I have read, is what they leave to my own, rather over-active imagination.
I was curious therefore as to how the stage would be used to transport us to the desolate setting where the story takes place – Eel Marsh House, a large grey dwelling right by the sea. In the book and the film, the sky, the sea, the sands and the mist loom large and to bring that effect into a small theatre is no mean feat. It was truly ingenious. It’s a great example of how, using only three actors and simple props, supported by simple yet highly effective light and sound techniques you can create a spine-tingling atmosphere of dread.
Stephen Mallatratt’s stage adaptation differs from the book in that the story is told by two actors who fulfill all the parts between them in an ingenious fashion. The story is presented in a different way on stage than either in the book or in the film. The play begins in quite an odd fashion which is initially funny and annoying – not quite what one expects from a play about horror.
But Daniel Easton as The Actor and Robert Goodale as Mr Kips both give superb performances as they start to weave the story, keeping the audience captivated from start to finish, juggling the various characters, scenes and the action between them, yet maintaining the fine silver thread of terror intact. It must be hard for the cast, when the natural reaction to jumping out of your skin, is then nervous laughter, having just emitted a loud shriek.
I would thoroughly recommend a visit to this production. It is the simplicity and skill that impresses. The production is profoundly effective and it may well scare the living daylights out of you. Unless you are a teenager who has had to read it for their GCSE.. in which case it might not. But I was very glad I didn’t have to go on my own…
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