BWW Review: THE WOMAN IN BLACK, York Theatre Royal
The theatrical phenomenon that is The Woman In Black began in 1987, when Stephen Mallatratt adapted Susan Hill's spine-chilling work of Gothic fiction for the stage. Over 30 years and countless terrified audiences later the production is still going strong, with a permanent home in the West End's Fortune Theatre and a number of tours under its belt.
The current touring production sees Robert Goodale and Daniel Easton take on the well-trodden roles of Arthur Kipps and the Actor respectively, bringing with them their own unique flair. Goodale comes into his own when playing the more eccentric characters from Arthur's tale, conjuring more than a few laughs from the audience. Easton brings a similar joviality to his role, particularly towards the beginning of the production, but evokes a sternness when in character as the younger Arthur that keeps the tension high.
Mallatratt's script is at times verbose enough that it could lose the audience's interest, and it is a testament to both the performers and Robin Herford's direction that the delivery of the text has enough character and rhythm to remain engaging throughout.
Having seen the production in its London home many years ago, I was a little concerned that the set would not translate well into another theatre, but Michael Holt's design holds its own in York Theatre Royal. The multi-level backdrop set behind a ghostly transparent curtain is as effective as ever, creating silhouettes and shadows that have the audience anticipating a scare at every corner.
The tightly planned sound and lighting, designed by Sebastian Frost and Kevin Sleep respectively, are as slick as can be. There are some wonderfully effective lighting moments throughout: spidery shadows created with candlelight, the appearance of moonlight shining eerily through a window.
In this touring production, The Woman In Black loses none of the magic that has had audiences returning for decades. Despite an ever-changing cast and a different theatre every week, the one thing that remains consistent is the palpable excitement and engagement from the audience. Every trick and jump scare is met with screams and terror-fringed delight, a fizz of nervous laughter here and a coo of anticipation there. There's nothing better than a good old-fashioned ghost story, and this one will have you quivering in your seat.
The Woman In Black plays at York Theatre Royal until 16 November before continuing on tour.
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton