Despite never having seen the film, nor read the book, I knew enough about the hype around The Woman in Black, to know to be terrified. In fact, I think a lot of my fear and nerves for this show came from other people’s reactions when I said I was going to see it, “Oh, you’re going to scream so much!”. I am scared of everything, so this wasn’t a surprise to me.
What was a surprise, however, was how funny the show is at times! We follow a play within a play, where Arthur Kipps, an endearing older man played by David Acton, enlist the help of a young actor, played by Matthew Spencer to help exercise his demons from a horrific life, by re-enacting his life story. There were some hilarious moments of perfectly timed lines, sassy facial expressions and physical comedy that I did have to question a few times whether we had walked into the wrong show - this wasn’t scary at all! I do have to say, however, the sudden improvement of Kipps from being awkward with his lines and very stiff, to being one of the best actors I have seen, seemed a little unbelievable, but in a show about ghosts, it hardly matters.
If you ask anyone who has seen the show, they will refuse to tell you a lot of what happens, because it would ruin the effect, and so I am going to follow their lead. I will tell you, however, that I was entirely captivated by two men on a stage, with a clothes rack of various jackets and scarves, a few chairs and a wicker basket. The set was far from elaborate, and yet through lighting changes, sound effects and some good old fashioned acting, we were transported into the terrifying Drablow Manor, across the moors and into a graveyard. Not once did we have to second guess where we might be, nor who the actors were playing - no mean feat when there are just two men playing a variety of characters. They really were incredibly talented, engaging and versatile actors.
There is some clever shadow work with the gauze curtain at the back, and not quite being able to see everything that is happening there certainly added to the terror. The most nerve-jangling part of it all, however was the directional sound from the speakers that had me constantly looking behind myself, the hairs on the back of my neck standing up with chills. I am not afraid to say that there were a few moments when I jumped and shouted and I wasn’t the only one!
The terror was evoked from sudden movements, flashes in the dark and mere hints of the Woman in Black, and proves that sometimes our imaginations are far scarier than a gruesome horror film. I will say that I can imagine a smaller theatre being a little scarier due to the intimacy. We were in the Dress Circle and although I felt worried that the Woman was going to get me from behind, I imagine it would have been a little more intense to see her onstage if you were sitting in the stalls.
To say this lived up to expectations would not be doing it justice. I already want to go back and watch it again. But I think I’ll have a shot of brandy beforehand!
Reviewer: Codie Louise
Reviewed: 22nd May 2017
North West End Rating: ★★★★