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BWW Review: THE WOMAN IN BLACK at Shakespeare Theatre Company

The Woman in Black at Shakespeare Theatre

Stephen Mallatratt's stage adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 horror novel 'The Woman in Black' has become somewhat of a legendary production. Originally directed by Robin Hereford (who has directed every recast of the show including this one), it has become a famous staple of the London theatre scene earning its premiere in 1989 and has been running ever since. 'The Woman in Black' is the second longest running stage play in West End history second only to Agatha Christie's 'The Mousetrap'. The play famously involves two actors who perform the entirety of the play. The structure of the show centers around a 'play within a play' concept following two actors as they go through their rehearsal process.

The plot follows elderly Arthur Kipps, who has hired a young actor to perform a script that Kipps has written about himself. The young actor plays the role of Kipps in the play and Kipps stars as the other assorted characters in the script he has written. Their play details a sequence of events that lead to another with each one adding to the suspense and tension held in the story. The tension builds and stretches with no relief until the end.

BWW Review: THE WOMAN IN BLACK at Shakespeare Theatre Company

For a famous production who's reputation promises an unforgettable night at the theatre, 'A Woman in Black' does not seem to live up to its reputation. It does not seem a show that has been entertaining the masses in London for decades. It could possibly be that many of the elements that made the show unique in 1989 such as the 'play within a play' concept and the final twist at the end have become elements that have become somewhat commonplace in theatre today. They would have been less so 30 years ago. These ideas have been repeated and copied by many other shows of recent years. The impact that they may have had when the show came out in 1989 is not the same impact that audiences today may feel. This being said, it still is a wonderful show and the Lansburgh theatre works perfectly for the production.

Actors Daniel Easton and Robert Goodale have excellent onstage chemistry together. They work off of each other; Easton will explain to the audience a premonition he is having and Goodale will chime in with bombastic narration that transports the story to other dimensions. The desolate set (designed by Michael Holt) and minimal props transports the audience into a dusty old theatre. The set, while it does not change drastically throughout the show allows the slight changes that do happen to be ever more significant.

BWW Review: THE WOMAN IN BLACK at Shakespeare Theatre Company

The lighting designer, Kevin Sleep, is able to conceal parts of the set behind see through curtains with that illuminates the hidden set when the story permits. He also uses lighting to transport the actors to other parts of the narrative. Sebastian Frost, the sound designer, is also able to transport the audience to other spaces with the sound of a train station or of a busy street. He also is able to help the impact of some of the scares of the show by designing unnerving noises which act as the score to the show and make the impact of the scares all the more powerful.

Overall 'The Woman in Black' at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, is an impressive production, when it ends it leaves audiences with their skin crawling. It is a rare show that gives audiences a taste of the West End right here in DC.

The Woman in Black is running through December 22 at the Michael R. Klein Theatre located at 450 7th st NW, Washington DC. It can be accessed through the Gallery Place metro stop. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office at 202-547-1122

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From This Author - Russell Smouse