THE WOMAN IN BLACK: Touring 4Star****

THE WOMAN IN BLACK: Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt.

Theatre Royal: Tkts 0115 989 5555
Runs: 2h 10m: one interval: till 25th February.
Performance times: 7.30pm, matinees 2.00pm Wed and 2.30pm Sat.
Review: Alan Geary: 20th February 2017.

Cleverly crafted and fascinating meta-theatre. And it makes you scream.
Now in its thirtieth year, this is an ingenious adaptation by the late Stephen Mallatratt of the original Susan Hill novel.

The period is, intentionally vaguely, early twentieth-century. We’re in the era of pea-soup London fogs, bowler hats, horse-drawn transport and deference.

An elderly solicitor, Arthur Kipps (David Acton), as a young man, was dispatched from London to examine the papers of a recently deceased old lady who lived alone in an isolated pile on a marshy stretch of the north-east coast. There he encountered ghostly phenomena that shattered his subsequent life. In the hope of expunging his tragedy, he persuades a young actor (Matthew Spencer) to help him recount his story.

It’s a suspenseful thriller. But it’s also a heart-wrenching tale with a double-whammy twist at the end. And it’s authentically terrifying; it makes your hairs stand on end, not just on the back of the neck but all over the legs. It also manages to be funny.

Furthermore this is cleverly crafted and fascinating meta-theatre. It’s set on the stage of an empty theatre, so along with the other elements, we get fascinating exploration, dissection indeed, of what it is to tell a tale or present a play.

Much of the text – whether from Hill or Mallatrat, or both – has a measured, almost classical ring to it; it self-consciously leans on Shakespeare, Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Wells, Hitchcock even. A multi-locational set, which seems to recede further and further back towards the very rear of the stage, is outstanding. So are largely tongue-in-cheek sound and special effects, and the all-important lighting.

Both actors, especially Spencer, give riveting performances. Spencer has to pretend to be Kipps as a young man; Acton does all other parts. And a minimal set and dressing call for expert mime, which is delivered by both actors..

At one level – and this isn’t a put-down – The Woman in Black is like a ride at Alton Towers: it’s tremendous entertainment and it makes you scream. But there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s well worth a look; even if you’ve seen it before.

Arthur Kipps: David Acton.
The Actor: Matthew Spencer.

Director: Robin Herford.
Assistant Director: Antony Eden.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Lighting Designer: Kevin Sleep.
Associate Lighting Designer: Tony Simpson.
Original Sound Designer: Rod Mead.
Associate Sound Designer: Theo Holloway.

2017-02-24 12:08:38

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