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BWW Review: WOMAN IN BLACK at ACT Strand

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Stephen Mallatratt's adaptation of Susan Hill's Woman in Black

BWW Review: WOMAN IN BLACK at ACT Strand

Woman in Black

Written by Susan Hill

Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt

Directed by Robin Herford

A.C.T. Strand

If you haven't had enough of ghosts, spooks and specters this season, run to A.C.T. Strand's captivating production of Dame Susan Hill's 1983 gothic horror story Woman in Black. Adapted to the stage by Stephen Mallatratt, the haunting of a small English town is the second longest-running play in the history of the West End and is now scaring Bay Area audiences in this excellently staged, acted, and directed two-hander.

BWW Review: WOMAN IN BLACK at ACT Strand
Robin Herford and Antony Eden

Set in 1951 London, Woman in Black opens with actor (Antony Eden) attempting to coach a man (Robin Hereford as Arthur Kipps) through the reading of "a story that must be told". The actor has unbridled enthusiasm and is convinced he can make an Olivier out of the very reluctant Kipp. As the two start to rehearse, the wonder of Mallatratt's adaptation shines with the actors assuming the many characters of Kipp's story, time shifting between present and past seamlessly.

Robin Herford (Arthur Kipps) commissioned and directed Mallatratt's original adaptation and has directed and recast every production since, and he owns the role of the burdened and emotionally drained witness to a horrible past. His reluctance to 'perform' his story transforms into a multi-character tour de force. Antony Eden as The Actor is every bit Herford's equal, as the young Kipps, living through the gothic nightmare of 60 years earlier.

BWW Review: WOMAN IN BLACK at ACT Strand
Robin Herford and Antony Eden

The gothic trope of grieving mother avenging the death of a child is common and sets the stage for the scary plotlines excellently executed by Designer Michael Holt, Lighting Designer Anshumann Bhatia, and Sound Designer Sebastian Frost. You really get the sense of the eerie, fog shrouded marshes that surround the inhospitable Eel Marsh House with its creaks and moans.

Audience may come for the scares, but the genius of Woman in Black is the opportunity to see two phenomenal British actors ply their craft speaking in the wondrous Queen's English. Mallatratt's structure of Arthur rehearsing with an actor makes for a perfect play within a play, one of my favorite theatre constructs. Woman in Black is a rare import that must be experienced when one gets the chance.

Woman in Black runs through January 16th, 2021. Tickets can be purchased at 415-749-2228 or online at tickets@act-sf.org

Photo Credit: Kasey L. Ross


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