Despite often watching from between my fingers, I do love me a bit of scary entertaiment. One of the few horror movies that has really rattled me and left me hiding under my duvet the night after seeing it at the cinema was The Woman in Black. However, since long before Daniel Radcliffe failed at looking old enough to play Arthur Kipps, the stage play version of Susan Hill’s 1983 horror novella has been thrilling London audiences. Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from Hill’s novel, The Woman in Black had its premiere in 1987 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. Opening in the West End in 1989, it’s currently the second longest-running non-musical play in the history of the West End (after The Mousetrap). Although the movie definitely gave me the creeps, I’ve always really wanted to see how the stage version compares, so I was really excited when Rebecca from Official Theatre invited me along with some other bloggers to see The Woman In Black at the Fortune Theatre last week.
The story is in a ‘play-within-a-play’ format, which sees the elderly Arthur Kipps (Julian Forsyth) pay a visit to an actor (Antony Eden) in order to be able to tell his horrifying story to friends and family and give himself peace at last from the horrors he encountered. Taking on the character of the younger Kipps, a junior solicitor, The Actor re-enacts Kipps’ journey to the funeral of a client, Mrs Alice Drablow. At the funeral, he sees a woman with a ‘wasted face’ dressed in black. When Kipps goes to Eel Marsh House, the late Alice Drablow’s home, he begins to sort through her papers and discovers more about the mysterious woman in black – and the fact that he may not be alone in Eel Marsh House.
Although I did find the start to be a little slow, there was a great build of tension from the scenes where Kipps heads to Crythin Gifford, and the first appearance of the woman herself definitely gave me chills. Apart from the opening scenes, I felt the pacing was great for building suspense, right through to the jumpier moments of the second half and the final, spine-chilling conclusion. The staging is kept very simple, but the use of descriptive speech alongside basic objects and smoke machines to create scenes such as a pony and trap through the marshland allow the audience’s imagination to build the scenes perfectly.
The whole thing is performed by just two actors (and the incredibly terrifying woman in black…), and I was incredibly impressed at the acting skills demonstrated by both. In the role of ‘The Actor’, Antony Eden really shone, especially creating the slow exploration of the young Arthur Kipps as he unravels the mystery of the woman in black. As Arthur Kipps himself, Julian Forsyth’s portrayal of a doddery and stage-shy old man who slowly grows competent in taking on performing multiple personas is fantastic to watch. Both actors take on their multiple characters-within-characters in a fantastic way, including snap-switching from their roles in the play-within-the-play to their normal characters.
The lack of crediting for the woman’s performance definitely gave it a chilling end, particularly with the final moments revealing a terrifying prospect for The Actor. Although I wasn’t as terrified as I was by the film I really enjoyed the performance, particularly the fantastic storytelling and imaginative delivery, and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit different to the usual West End musical. And if you can’t make it to London, The Woman in Black is currently on a UK Tour – see here for full dates.
Just try not to look her in the eye…
Have you seen The Woman In Black?