As ‘The Woman In Black’ heads out on tour, we caught up with Antony Eden who plays ‘The Actor’ for the UK Tour. We find out from Antony Eden, what the show’s enduring qualities are that have drawn audiences back to see the play for more than 30 years.
The Woman In Black’s success, means that the play continues in the West End, but it is also coming to a theatre near you. Find the dates and booking details for the UK Tour by following this link – https://www.thewomaninblack.com/ticket-info/uk-tour
Without giving away any spoilers, can you give a summary of the ghostly tale which is ‘The Woman In Black’?
‘The Woman In Black’ is the story of Arthur Kipps who, as a young ambitious solicitor is sent to the remote, isolated home of Alice Drablow, recently deceased, to collect her legal papers – the peculiar and supernatural events that he experiences change the course of his life forever. That is the book… The play starts with Kipps as an older man, with book in hand, hiring a young actor to help him tell his story, and the audience bear witness as strange and terrifying events unfold…
The Fortune Theatre has been home to the play since 1989, has the play been adapted to consider the different venues you will be visiting on the tour?
The play was first commissioned and directed by the brilliant Robin Herford and written by the great Stephen Mallatratt. Robin has directed every cast on tour and in the West End. The huge advantage of this is that the production is not a photocopy of a photocopy of an original production but is re-invented every time true to the original vision. This means that what you get on tour is every bit as fun, powerful and scary as you get on the West End stage. As actors, a huge part of the joy is fitting the play to new and different theatres, with new and different audiences. The play itself is set in a theatre, so the building we are in becomes the specific set of the production.
What do you think it is about ‘The Woman In Black’ that continues to draw audiences in?
It is fantastic entertainment. There is so much to it: it is a comedy; a tragedy; a whodunnit; a drama; a horror – more than anything else it is a play with a big and welcoming heart which truly plays to theatre’s strengths. Not only is it a great story thanks to Susan Hill’s best-selling novel, but also the way it has been adapted makes it uniquely theatrical and a perfect love letter to theatre. It puts the audience experience above anything else. Personally speaking, there is everything I want from a night out as an audience member in this show. I have seen it many MANY times.
You have played ‘The Actor’ on more than one occasion, what prompted you to return to the role?
I started acting professionally when I was 9 years old, but I think I truly fell in love with theatre when I went to see ‘The Woman In Black’ at the age of 14. A year later I wrote to Robin (the director), Peter Wilson (the producer) and Susan Hill (!) asking for permission to put the play on at school with a close school friend who also loved the play. I think we put on the first amateur production of the show. It is no exaggeration to say this play is the main reason I chose to work in theatre. For my money it is certainly one of the absolute best plays to have been written in the second half of the 20th Century and my favourite playof all time. I have played this part in theWest End, all over the UK and even in Asia. I have done about 1000 performances, and I can honestly say each time has been fresh and exciting.
You are also Assistant Director, how do you manage to juggle your acting and directing roles?
It is fortunately a very easy juggling act to manage. Although ‘The Woman In Black’ has been running in the West End for over thirty years and has been performed all over the world, its beginnings were very humble. It was a small Christmas show that Robin Herford commissioned to be performed in the bar at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, when he took over running the place for a couple of years whilst Alan Ayckbourn was on sabbatical at the National. That brilliant, small, practical regional theatrical philosophy permeates the show and makes it unique amongst other big hitters in the West End: Get the basics right and trust the script. The basics are getting a terrific team to make the show happen, which we have led by the fantastic Neil Hillyer, and cast very good actors. Robert Goodale is such a great actor it is a pleasure to tell the story with him every night and we are very lucky to have two fantastic actors covering us in Dominic Price and Jon Deville. I run the show with them every week, but as they are both excellent, my job is very easy.
I was very interested to read that your skills include fire juggling, clowning, and devil stick. These skills must have taken time to develop, how did you learn? Do you get the opportunity to use them very often?
Always happy to talk juggling! I mean… if I am honest most actors have ‘special skills’ on their CV that they are not necessarily particularly skilled at… (I think I may still have ‘historic dance’ on there which may be a stretch…) Clowning I do when I can, I learnt under a great guy and friend called Mark Bell who was trained at LeCoq and directed the “Play That Goes Wrong”, but juggling is something I regularly do a lot of! I started in my early twenties when I had just come out of drama school and, as you might imagine, had a lot of time on my hands! I normally have some juggling balls in my dressing room and will be practicing before the show. Fire juggling, I try to keep for outside my dressing room… I have occasionally managed to wangle them into shows. Not quite sure how I could with ‘The Woman In Black’, but you never know!
Do you have a favourite role that you have played in your career so far? And is there a role that you would like to play in the future?
Honestly, my favourite role is this part I am playing now in the ‘The Woman In Black’, it is an absolute privilege to be able to play it on tour. I am always interested in doing new stuff as well, particularly new writing… although there are a few classics I would love to do that I have not done yet – Priestley’s ‘Time and the Conways’, I’d love to do and the brilliant ‘Way Upstream’ by Alan Ayckbourn – they would be at the top of my list. But I am so grateful that theatre is coming back after its snooze and I am able to play my favourite part in this wonderful play, big shout out to the fantastic management of PW Productions who have made that possible. Bring it on!
Antony Eden Biography
West End credits include ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ and ‘Les Misérables’. His other theatre credits include ‘Ten Times Table’ at the Mill at Sonning, ‘A Brief History of Women’ and ‘Taking Steps’ with the Alan Ayckbourn company at the Stephen Joseph Theatre and 59E59 New York, ‘A Passionate Woman’ at the Cheltenham Everyman and on tour, and ‘Three Kings’ at the St James’ Theatre among others. Antony is also associate director of ‘The Woman in Black’ and directs and produces with his own theatre company, Dead Letter Perfect.