In that theatre space, the whole of Østerbo will hear you scream
The Woman in Black
It’s always darkest before the dawn.” I’m not sure who said that, but by the end of this story, you’re awfully grateful for the refuge of daylight.
Based on the novel by Susan Hill, ‘The Woman in Black’ is a difficult narrative to take on, but in Stephen Malatratt’s stage version, it is superbly adapted to only require three actors. Arthur Kipps, played by an impressive Benjamin Stender, is a young solicitor assigned to travel to a remote village outside London to handle the affairs of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. Ian Burns gives a spectacular performance as almost all the other characters opposite Kipps, and then there is the infamous ‘woman in black’, who doesn’t speak throughout the entire production, yet her presence, needless to say, is the most formidable.
Set in the Edwardian era, the play begins with Stender and Burns doing what appears to be a casual ‘rehearsal’ of the play. We become familiar with their jovial relationship, run though the basics of the plot and even have a laugh or two. We then move onto business, so to speak, as the story takes on a very real form.
Kipps eventually arrives at the quiet yet somewhat unsettling town of Cryphin Gifford and is greeted with a cold reception by almost everyone he encounters. No-one wants anything to do with Kipps, and at every path he crosses, it becomes increasingly evident why.
Mrs Drablow’s estate rests outside the town in isolated marshlands that can only be reached at low tide. To make matters worse, there’s a heavy fog that quickly but silently creeps in, consuming the manor and imprisoning those who dwell inside.
Upon arrival Kipps quickly discovers that although the reclusive widow no longer lives, the home is still inhabited. The history of ‘The Woman in Black’ is slowly revealed during his disorientating visit to the estate on which he learns that the vengeful ghost cannot be escaped.
Under the guidance of director Barry McKenna, the gentlemen use mime to cleverly simulate characters and a large amount of the set. The stage as a simple black canvas allows you to construct your own version of horror, while the expressive use of lighting, temporary walls and secret doors make for thrilling surprises, in more ways than one.
At one point, we were in complete darkness as a torch darted frantically through the audience revealing dozens of terrified faces, one after the other. I couldn’t count how many times the hair stood up on the back of my neck.
The element of fear is difficult to instil in theatre, but this gripping production will take you to the dark corners of your mind – certainly places that you may not want to visit again.
The play is a classic and engaging interpretation of the trials and tribulations of spending an evening in a haunted house and holds everything quintessential to turn the blood cold including rattling locked doors, screams in the dark and things that lurk deep in the fog.