The Woman in Black King’s Theatre

I was intrigued to read in the programme that all the parts were to be performed by only two actors, and that the stage set and props were minimal. I haven’t read the original novel by Susan Hill but I have seen the recent film version with Daniel Radcliffe, and I couldn’t imagine how they would be able to bring this story and its many characters to life on stage with such basic tools. Well, the key word is “imagine” and this production certainly gets the audience’s imagination working overtime.

This is the 25th anniversary tour of the play adapted from the novel by Stephen Mallatratt and directed by Robin Herford and I’m sure it will go on to scare and delight audiences for many years to come.

Act 1 builds up slowly as it sets the scene and introduces us to the two main characters -Kipps (played by Julian Forsyth) and “The Actor”(Antony Eden). Kipps, now an old man, has hired an actor to help him tell a story he has kept hidden for years – the story of his visit as a young solicitor to the mysterious and remote Eel Marsh House to settle the affairs of the recently deceased owner, Mrs Alice Drabshaw. At her funeral he sees a woman dressed all in black and this sets off a train of terrifying and tragic events.

Act 2 ramps up the action and the suspense. We gradually discover the secrets of Eel Marsh House and experience the terrors endured by Kipps as he spends time there alone, going through old documents. There are a number of classic horror set pieces – lights go out, mysterious noises are heard, there is a locked room at the top of the stairs. Clichés perhaps but none the less frightening.

All of this is done without the use of CGI or elaborate sets. A wicker chest and a couple of chairs on stage transform in our minds to an office desk, a carriage, a train. A backdrop of a plain gauze curtain is used both as a screen on which images are projected and as an eerie window to a deserted graveyard and a hidden room. The sound effects are also excellent, providing that extra dimension which really draws us into the story and makes it all too real.

We all like to be scared by a good horror story, and judging by the screams around the auditorium I reckon this does the job. It’s not at all highbrow just good entertainment and genuinely scary at times. I was certainly glad I wasn’t going back to an empty house that night!

Irene Brownlee