It is always great to see a show that is so well established in theatres. Having been viewed in the West End for over 30 years, Susan Hill’s ‘Woman In Black’ has its routes firmly embedded on the stage. Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation ensures that this chilling, eerie story continues to put fear in to the most fearless of audiences.
For those that may not be aware, and without giving the game away, the story is essentially about the retelling of a traumatic occasion in Lawyer, Arthur Kipps life and he asks ‘The Actor’ (Anthony Eden), to tell his tale. With a silent woman in black appearing when you least expect it, it is clear she is intent on seeking revenge. With just two speaking actors in the performance (Anthony Eden and Robert Goodale) the gripping tale is retold as the reality of Arthur Kipps story is laid bare.
The show, perhaps intentionally, has a very slow build up, where the audience is urging it to speed up somewhat. This sets the scene for the continuous tension that follows. It is at the beginning, that the audience is constantly anticipating where the initial shock on stage will come from. However, towards the end of the first half, and certainly during all of the second, it did just that, and the tension builds beautifully towards a shocking end.
Anthony Eden who portrayed ‘The Actor’ was energetic, engaging and put his body and soul into the performance. Clearly master of his craft with a great many accolades to his name, he commanded the stage and captivated the eager audience. Running through the centre of the audience at one point after the dog ‘Spider’, he was thrilling to watch.
Arthur Kipps, performed by Robert Goodale showed much versatility throughout his performance as he went from playing Kipps, to taking on other characters in the relaying of his personal story. Occasionally a little muffled to hear, his portrayal of a desperate man in the initial scenes ensured the audience felt his desperation and insistence on ensuring this desperate story was told.
The lighting was spectacular, and applause must be attributed to the remarkable work of Lighting Director Kevin Sleep. Having been responsible for lighting in the original production in the West End Sleeps talent speaks for itself. Arguably the lighting was a large component of the production and enhanced the actors storytelling, especially at times when the woman in black appeared.
Sound was spot on, and it certainly had to be. Sound Designer Sebastian Frost had the timing to perfection. Eerie, haunting screams, the noise of a stagecoach and the various heart stopping loud banging’s throughout, the sound punctuated the play beautifully and ensured screams from the audience occurred just when they least expected it.
Props were appropriately simple. It was essential that there were few and they added to the chilling drama through a ‘less is more’ approach. An example of this was when the rocking chair continued to move on stage when it was empty. These simple effects further acknowledged that it was the small unexplained aspects, such as this, that were extremely powerful on stage resulting in the continuous ability to scare an audience.
‘Woman in Black’ may have thrilled audiences for decades and is certainly ageing gracefully but it could be suggested that this degree of menace on stage is timeless. There are no high-tech special effects, and this is entirely appropriate for this production. It is undoubtedly a production that will continue to instil fear into thrill seeking audiences for many more years to come. The greatest aspect of The Woman in Black is undoubtedly its simplicity.
The Woman in Black is on at the Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent until Saturday 2nd October with tickets available from ATG tickets at www.atgtickets.com/stoke
Reviewer: Angela Kelly
Reviewed: 27th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★