27 Years on, The Woman in Black continues to terrify audiences today.
On Monday 14th November 2016, The Woman in Black had its first performance at Exeter Northcott Theatre. As school kids and families alike waited outside in the foyer and café, there was a sense of anticipation and excitement in the air. Whether they had heard of the show’s previous reviews or had been to see it before at some other stage of its tour, everyone was looking forward to one thing: a fright from Hill and Mallatratt’s collaborative invention of the woman herself. We had a quick drink and went straight to our seats in the auditorium, where the whole room was buzzing with suspense and potentially nervousness in some cases. The show had attracted young and old, and the whole audience were busily chattering away, psyching themselves up for the production that has previously been named as ‘one of British Theatre’s biggest- and scariest- hits’ (Needham, 2012).
The play follows the story of a solicitor, Arthur Kipps, who has been sent to a recently deceased client’s house to look through her documents. It soon, however, becomes apparent that the house holds a particularly undesirable story and history…
Soon, the announcement to turn off mobile phones was announced, and the play was underway. The stage was predictably dressed with dreary blacks and greys; the perfect set up for a horror production, but it was not immediately apparent how well they would make use of this staging and set design.
The play was heavily weighted on the fact that the two actors had to multi-role throughout, and they were incredibly successful in this, flipping characters on their heads by simply putting on a different hat and changing their posture, gait or accent. Not only were the actors used to convey different people, but the set was also used innovatively alongside the show’s lighting to create causeways, horses, beds and much more, with faux-mist adding extra atmosphere. Perhaps the most intriguing use of the set was in how they presented other rooms in the house. The curtain at the back of the stage was made see-through when a certain lighting effect was in use, allowing the audience to have a dim and shadowy peek as Mr Kipps, played by David Acton, crept around trying to discover the source of some frightening footsteps.
The attention to detail throughout was laudable. As I glanced down at the programme before the play began, I noticed the words ‘the action takes place in this theatre 100 years ago’; setting me up for a shifty and paranoid 2 hours, wondering where the next jump would come from. This, along with many false jump-scares in the increasingly cold theatre space put the audience in the shoes of the jittery protagonist, always on the edge of our seats.
‘Oh, Christ’ gasped the lady next to me, on the ninth time of jumping from her seat, followed by an apologetic chuckle.
If you should find yourself heading to London this holiday, I would recommend this as a production well worth-seeing.
– Alex Gunter
Currently playing at: Fortune Theatre, London
Next tour date: Aylesbury Waterside. 29 th Nov- 3 rd Dec