The Woman in Black
Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the novel by Susan Hill
Richmond Theatre until 24 September
Runs 2hs 20 with interval
TICKETS 0844 871 7651
Review: Tom Aitken, 20 September 2016
Still the power to shock all ages.
A large proportion of the audience at the press night of this remarkable play consisted of school parties; if this caused apprehension among some adults, there was no need to worry.
Once the play grabbed them, these responsive young people were in close touch with the play throughout.
Of course, you have to cope with the fact that one of the standard teenage reactions to shocks of almost any sort, sudden bangs or screams, is noisy laughter. It implies, I suggest, shock rather than any attempt to ridicule.
The play, as it proceeds, is increasingly punctuated by loud bangs, shouts and screams, and sudden appearances by the woman in black. (No on is credited in the programme, so she is a mystery in several ways.)
However, these appearances are not merely tricks to make us jump.
This is because the play, although it is a horror story, is, even more, a searching examination of the long term effects of guilt and sadness.
This is clear from the opening scene, in which a forthcoming family gathering is under discussion.
An actor (Matthew Spencer) is helping a family put together a Halloween party with contributions from all. The only one of the family we actually see is its oldest member, Arthur Kips.
Arthur has written an account of some transformative experiences he went through as a young man. He wants to read the whole of this account to the gathering and has asked an actor to listen to him and give him some guidance.
The actor is aghast. Arthur has no idea of the practicalities of what he wants to do. The account he has written, would take about five days to read, just for starters.
Arthur, furthermore, has no idea at all of how to hold listeners’ attention for five minutes, let long five days. He is enraged to be told so, but eventually agrees to try and do it the way his young instructor tells him.
By this time we have a fairly clear idea that Arthur’s tale is a very upsetting one, which he himself barely understands and with which he cannot come to terms.
The rest of the play will show us why.
It was a lesson in the power of theatre to observe the young people coming to terms with the fact that although this is a horror story, the true, destructive horror lies in the laying before us of the ways in which people’s lives and personalities become twisted when they are confronted by powerfully destructive emotions which they cannot understand, leaving the framework of their own sense of selfhood in tatters.
Directed with great skill and strong performances. Very highly recommended.
Director Robin Herford
Designer Michael Holt
Lighting Designer Kevin Sleep
Sound Designer Gareth Owen