With Halloween out of the way, I thought that spooky season was over – I even put a Christmas Cookie airfreshener in my car.
Well, spooky season isn’t over until you’ve seen The Woman in Black.
Having seen the well-known film – starring Daniel Radcliffe – at the cinema when it came out in 2012, I was already aware of the story line. However, the tale goes back to 1983, when Susan Hill wrote the gothic novel.
I had never seen the story performed on stage, but remember being a bit jealous of my brother having seen it. I’d also never seen a horror in theatre – mostly feel-goods like Fame, Dirty Dancing or The Full Monty. I’d always left The Regent Theatre with a smile on my face or laughing in hysterics, not checking over my shoulder every two seconds in fear as I walked to my car.
The Woman In Black features just three actors, with only two spoken roles – in fact, The Woman In Black isn’t even in the programme. She remains a mystery – a spectre. Perhaps all will become clear by the end of the play though. The cast also switch up every nine months to keep it fresh.
When I read about the two spoken roles in in the programme, I wondered how this would be presented – I was already intrigued – full of suspense.
What added to that edgy feeling was the fact that, when I took my seat, the set on stage was off balance, with slanted flooring. It all added to a feeling of growing discomfort that the actors want you to feel throughout the show. It was subtle, but it certainly worked.
Upon the stage stood Arthur Kipps, played by Robert Goodale – he was a frail man fumbling over words he so desperately wanted to speak… stories he wanted to tell.
Eventually – after a painfully jittery start – The Actor, played by Daniel Easton, rescued Arthur by playing his part for him.
The play flitted between dark ominous scenes they acted out together, with Kipps playing any additional roles or new characters, and The Actor maintaining Kipps’ persona. Between the scenes, they would seemingly snap back to reality to discuss how the scenes were executed. It took a few minutes to adjust to it, but once you realised what was going on, it was captivating. You’d have just about become engrossed in part of the story before The Actor would remind you that they were, ironically, acting out Arthur’s story. The story of The Woman in Black.
Imagination played a huge part in the performance – you had to immerse yourself in the story and imagine props with the characters. There were limited resources on stage and the set was kept simple, but used lighting and sheer curtains to create different locations despite little moving on stage. Similarly, a large wicker basket played the role of a desk, a pony trap, a train seat, an ottoman – but the actors really made you believe. There was also an invisible dog at one point.
Additionally, the use of atmospheric audio helped paint the pictures in your mind; from the sound of railway lines to crows in graveyards. The sounds from the speakers transported you from the house, to the village or to the marsh land.
Both actors were spectacular, with Easton flitting between himself and Kipps, but Goodale was really marvellous. He played his nervous self, but also, Mr Daily, Mr Jerome, Mr Bentley and the narrator – and really transformed into totally different personalities – some more youthful and eccentric than others. It was so easy to tell who he was playing from his clothes, change in voice or the spring in his step.
The Woman In Black is seen walking down the stairs of the auditorium before skulking onto the stage to scare The Actor. She springs up a number of times throughout the night, hiding in the shadows of the fog of the stage, but enough to make you jump. The most foreboding is the rocking chair scene, which most of you will know from the film. I don’t want to spoil it for you!
It is quite jumpy, and certainly full of suspense, picking up pace quickly in Act Two. Screams from the audience proved the vengeful spirit was pretty fearful, and the audio and lighting had you looking all around the room looking out for her.
At the end there is a pretty interesting plot twist, which had you leaving the theatre satisfied at the closure but equally terrified.
The Woman In Black is at the Regent Theatre until November 9. Book tickets here.