Theatre is back! The Palace Theatre in Manchester swung open their doors for the first time since March 2020 to welcome theatregoers to The Woman in Black. A bit of a dark show for the first one back!
Prior to this evening I had never seen The Woman in Black. I didn’t know what to expect, other than the promotional material that made me think it would be a thriller. I was actually pleasantly surprised to discover it was quite humorous in places.
Fun fact – The Woman in Black is the second longest running show on London’s West End after The Mousetrap. It is said to be the most terrifying live theatre experience in the world – but I’ll leave that open to interpretation.
This is a stage production based on the novel written by Susan Hill. In the beginning we are in a rehearsal studio where Arthur Kipps (Robert Goodale) is presenting his story with the assistant of an unnamed actor played by Antony Eden.
For those who want a quick synopsis, the story focuses on Kipps’ retelling of his youth, when he worked as a solicitor. One day he sent up north to the market town of Crythin Gifford to deal with the estate of recently deceased Alice Drablow. Sounds relatively straightforward, but it is not as you expect.
Quite interestingly the actors swap roles during the production. So, although it begins with Goodale playing Kipps, as the story unfolds Eden plays the role of Kipps and Goodale becomes a character actor.
What starts as rather comedic turns to horror. It’s not really until Act 2 where the action heats up, but we witness quite a lot of cliche spooky figures, including mysterious figures, sudden loud noises and a haunted house.
Being completely honest I felt Act 1 was drawn out too long, setting up the scene and the narrative was already established. Even though it wasn’t a particularly lengthy play, I enjoyed Act 2 far more than Act 1.
This is quite an intense play and I would say to anyone thinking about going to see it, please turn your mobile phones off. One moment of the play was completely spoiled by a woman’s phone vibrating in her handbag during a crucial moment of the production.
Also, this play serves as a reminder that you don’t need fancy theatrics for a good piece of theatre. A good script that’s well acted, directed with good lighting and minimal props is all that’s needed to make an impact.
This is a traditional ghost story that doesn’t really explore anything new. There is plenty of suspense, but personally I don’t scare all that easily. For now, The Woman in Black may be gone, but who knows when she will reappear.
The Woman in Black continues at the Palace Theatre in Manchester until 28th August with full details and tickets available from https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-woman-in-black/palace-theatre-manchester/
Reviewer: Brian Madden
Reviewed: 23rd August 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★