Monday 13th September 2021 at the Grant Theatre and Opera House, York.
The Woman in Black has returned to stages, and seems to have lost none of its ability to keep audiences on the edge of their seats…
In Stephen Mallatratt’s 1989 adaptation of the Susan Hill novel, we are offered a play within a play; the ageing Arthur Kipps (Robert Goodale) seeks the guidance of “The Actor” (Antony Eden) as he prepares to recite his ghoulish tale for an audience in an act of purgation. Switching between the rehearsal and the half-formed product, this unnerving story of loss, obsession and revenge takes shape with impressive tangibility thanks to the assured performances of Goodall and Eden.
The approach is bold: avoid fuss. Why go all out with bells and whistles to depict a haunting tale like this when you can rely on the most terrifying thing of all? So the production does exactly that – it relies on the impressionable imaginations of audiences who’ve booked to enjoy the distinct pleasure of being spooked.
The cast simply make believe using a sparse but impressively dynamic set (Michael Holt), some knee-knocking lighting (Kevin Sleep) and sound (Rod Mead) design which is all topped off with the undeniable power of anticipation and imagination combined. Such things are supported very nicely by a combination of projection, plenty of eerie smoke and a sinister draped off rear section to conjure the various spaces of Hill’s tale with some gripping dramatic flair.
While I remain unconvinced, after this third experience of the show, by the stop-start framework of switching between rehearsal and tale, this performance impressed more than previous takes. I think this is perhaps down to the comedy early on feeling sharper and more generously dispersed, which ultimately makes the later drama land with more impact – and of course, the success is in no small part down to those strong central performances from Goodall and Eden, under the direction of Robin Herford.
So. In truth, while some of the sources of jump-starts will be predictable for some, no one can deny the power of the piece; audible responses throughout attest to the fact that this play hits the sweet spot of expectant thrill-seekers. So if you like the thrill of ghostly tales and things that go bump in the night, this should be just the ticket…
The Woman in Black plays the Grand Theatre and Opera House York until September 18th 2021 and you can find tickets here.