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The Woman in Black is one of the most intelligently written and performed plays I’ve ever seen, which is why I go to see it every time it tours at The Regent Theatre.
Based on Susan Hill’s gothic novel, the production was adapted by Stephen Mallatratt in 1987, becoming the second longest-running play in the West End – having been at the Fortune Theatre for 32 years.
Perfect to get you in the mood for Halloween, this is the second time I’ve seen the show in as many years – and it was just as spine-chilling the second time around, if not even more so.
The story of The Woman in Black was made even more famous by the 2012 film adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe, which has encouraged a new, younger audience to go and see the original production. Now, nearly a decade ago when the film was released, I was petrified by the unnerving tale, but it certainly set me up for being able to follow and understand the stage production.
Originally, the play was supposed to be a cheap Christmas show with an entire budget of £1,000 – as such The Woman in Black is performed as a play within a play, with just two actors who would portray a dozen characters between them. The Regent Theatre sees the talented Robert Goodale as Arthur Kipps, and Antony Eden as The Actor.
Arthur, a lawyer, is a man plagued by the burden of The Woman in Black, and is desperate to have his story told so that the curse that has hung over him for 30 years would be lifted. He enlists the help of The Actor to help him tell the story and relieve him of the fear that grips him and haunts his nightmares.
What’s remarkable about The Woman in Black is how these two actors use the entire room – from the mustard yellow seats in the auditorium, to the steps leading to the back of the stalls. It leaves you twisting around in your seats in search of the shadowy spectre, unsure as to where she may pop up.
Arthur and The Actor set about putting together their production to tell the tale of The Woman in Black when Arthur exclaims: “But, there are so many things we cannot represent! The dog, the causeway?” to which The Actor invites Mr Kipps, and the audience, to use their imagination. Throughout the performance, the wonderful lighting by Kevin Sleep, sets by Michael Holt combined with the sound design from Sebastian Frost helps the viewers to be fully immersed in the story, wholeheartedly accepting a wicker basket as a pony and trap, as well as a desk, a bed and railway seat, amongst other things.
You’ll often find the best results comes as a result of restrictions, and the limited budget of the original show certainly brought to life one of the most creative productions I’ve seen to date. Through simple props and outfits, The Actor takes on the role of a young Arthur Kipps, whilst Arthur becomes each and every person he meets along the road to the house on the marsh.
Arthur has been sent to Eel Marsh House of the late Mrs Alice Drablow, to attend her funeral and organise her estate where he finds himself tormented by The Woman in Black. This dark, gripping and unnerving production leaves you checking inside your wardrobe before you get into bed. In having the audience so immersed in their own imagination, it makes the frights all the more intense.
Anthony Eden made a brilliant, comical Actor supporting Arthur Kipps, who created a catalogue of characters each with their own outfits, accents, gait and story. He was completely and totally believable as each and every one of them, from Mr Daley to Mr Jerome. Of course, Mr Kipps promises his new friend a ‘surprise’, leaving The Actor stunned at the sudden appearances of The Woman in Black – a tall, gaunt woman who skulked about the set.
The Woman in Black is at The Regent Theatre, Hanley, until October 2, with tickets from just £13. If you want to get into the mood for spooky season, this decades-old classic is an absolute must.