THE WOMAN IN BLACK
adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the novel by Susan Hill.
Tour to 10 July 2010.
Runs: 2hr 10min one interval.
Review: Alan Geary 4 May at Theatre Royal Nottingham.
Still causing hairs at the back of the head to stand on end.
Now in its twenty-fourth year, The Woman in Black is still causing hairs on the back of the head to stand on end – there’s at least one point in proceedings when this literally happens.
Originally a novel by Susan Hill, this is an ingenious adaptation from the late Stephen Mallatratt. It’s a ghost story and a thriller, intentionally clichéd and deliberately echoing Shakespeare, Wilkie Collins, Dickens, H G Wells and others. At times it even brings that shower scene in Hitchcock to mind.
Young solicitor, Kipps (Peter Bramhill), has to visit an isolated mansion somewhere on the north-east coast to examine the papers of a recently deceased old lady who lived alone – it’s not explained why Kipps doesn’t simply cart them back to the London office to examine them in comfort; of course, had he done so, there would have been no story. There he encounters ghostly phenomena which change his life. In this stage version Kipps as an older man (Robert Demeger), in the hope of coming to terms with loss, recounts his story to a younger man, an actor.
It’s a highly suspenseful thriller, but also a powerful and heart-rending tragedy with a twist at the end.
Both performers are highly proficient. Bramhill looks like a younger version of Demeger, helpful because Bramhill’s character has to pretend to be Kipps as a young man. The period is intentionally vaguely, early twentieth-century, sort of Edwardian. We’re in the era of pea-soup London fogs, and bowler hats.
Sound and special effects, to a great extent tongue-in-cheek, are exhilarating, as is the miming from both both actors.
The whole thing’s set on a theatre stage, in this case of course that of the Theatre Royal, so along with its other elements, we’re given a fascinating exploration, dissection indeed, of what it is to tell a tale or present a play. There’s not supposed to be any audience there.
This is first-rate entertainment – your thinking, and feeling, man or woman’s night out.
Arthur Kipps: Robert Demeger.
The Actor: Peter Bramhill.
Director: Robin Herford.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Lighting: Kevin Sleep.
Sound: Gareth Owen.
Original Sound: Rod Mead.