Theatre review: The Woman in Black
Blurring lines of theatre and horror
This article is from 2015.
Since its first production in 1987, The Woman in Black has toured almost constantly: Stephen Mallatratt first adapted it from the 1983 novel by Susan Hill, and the story has recently won over a younger audience thanks to the 2012 film adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe.
Yet in its small cast and simple scenography, this production retains aspects of the stage version’s origins in Scarborough's rep theatre, and the script's clever merging of theatrical trickery and straight-forward storytelling conjures an intimate atmosphere even in a large auditorium.
From the introductory scenes – set in an abandoned theatre and setting up the relationship between Kipps (Malcolm James) and the actor he has employed to tell his story of supernatural horror (Matt Connor) – to the arrival of the ghostly woman in black in the final scenes, Robin Herford’s direction is fast-paced and playful, throwing the jump-scares in suddenly and slipping between comic and Gothic moods.
The story follows the line of late Victorian horror, echoing the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, with a slow reveal of the tragic tale behind the hauntings. The subtle use of lighting effects – and the not-so-subtle sound trickery – cunningly locate the historical period and the brooding atmosphere of Kipps’ tale, leading towards a dark conclusion with a bitter twist.
Because of the sophistication of Hill’s story and Mallatratt’s adaptation, The Woman in Black operates as both a thriller and a wry comment on the role of theatre, as a place where ghosts may hope to be put to rest only to be given a further afterlife.
Reviewed at Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Apr 2015.