Since opening in 1989, The Woman in Black has become one of the longest-running non-musical plays in the history of the West End, falling second place behind The Mousetrap. So after the success of The Mousetrap tour production to Aylesbury earlier this year, it seems appropriate that as the night’s draw in we are treated to this piece of chilling theatrical history.
Based on the fantastically spooky novel by Susan Hill, the play version is adapted by Stephen Mallatratt. For those unfamiliar with this particular incarnation of the tale, the play begins with an elderly Arthur Kipps (David Acton) reading aloud in an old Victorian theatre. It quickly becomes evident that he has engaged a young, enthusiastic Actor (Matthew Spencer) to try and help him tell the haunting ghost story of his past. Through the ‘technological wonders of the age’ we are transported back into Arthur Kipps history, as both men work together to tell of his life-altering encounter at the dreaded Eel Marsh House, so many years ago... Whilst some of the text now seems a little overdone for a contemporary audience, there is still much to enjoy here. Indeed, as with The Mousetrap, The Woman in Black seems to be a real original staple of the genre, which is testament to Hill’s skill as a writer, and Mallatratt’s ability to create tension filled silences amongst the wordy dialogue.
As a staple of the GCSE Drama curriculum, many people of a certain age will have seen this play in London before, likely at the small and intimate Fortune Theatre. And indeed, it has to be said, this particular play perhaps works better in a suitably aged building. A note in the programme that the play is set “in this Theatre about one hundred years ago” obviously becomes a bit wry in the ultra-modern Waterside, and the lack of a central aisle somewhat mars not just the story-telling but also some of the more dramatic shocks that occur in the West End Production.
Having said that, there is still much to enjoy in this production. Acton and Spencer both play their roles well, and for those unfamiliar with the play, there are definitely some scares to be had. Even having seen this play several times in London, I was still set shivering by the ghostly presence of the eponymous Woman in Black walking next to me in the aisle, and was suitably jumpy at the key points of the piece. The set functions well, even on the wide Waterside stage, and it’s evident the cast are working their socks off. The clever use of technology still thrills, even though our imaginations do much of the work, and it was clear that for some of the audience the scares were genuine.
Of course, it would probably be remiss of me not to say that this seems to be quite a ‘male heavy’ production, although it is somewhat commendable that the performance of the ‘Vision’ really does make or break this particular play. I’m pleased to say she did not disappoint on this occasion, and left a suitably chilly feeling in the auditorium. A perfect piece for a cold winter’s night, The Woman in Black is a spine-tingling good time.
The Woman in Black
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
29th November to 3rd December, 2016
Then continuing on tour.
© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Tuesday 29th November 2016.