(4 / 5)
The tale of the Woman in Black comes from the pen of the acclaimed author Susan Hill and I guarantee this stage adaptation, the legacy of the talented playwright Stephen Mallatratt, will not disappoint you.
It is 27 years since this production was first taken from the page and brought to the stage and its longevity is testament to the art of storytelling and the drama of theatre. The ability to tell a gripping story is a thread which runs through time itself and is as deep seated in us today as it was when stories were passed down by the telling of tales and before the Viking Sagas were written down. Every culture has its own myths and legends to draw on and before the advent of electricity and modern technological it was common for families to gather together in the evening, in the dark glow of the fireside to recount tales that would capture the imagination and transport them to times and places of both the past and the future.
Susan Hill’s novella, The Woman in Black, is a Gothic tale of love, loss, fear and revenge. As with all ghost and horror stories it has an unexpected ending, a twist in the tale, which sets us thinking and is the hook that makes us remember the story and gives us the ability to tell it to others again and again.
At the start of the play, in scene one, we are introduced to the two characters, Arthur Kipps and an Actor who he has engaged to assist him in the telling of the story that changed his life and his future. It is clear right from the start the importance for Kipps in telling his story, as not only a warning to others but as a means of trying to exorcise his own demons. In the telling of this tale it holds up a mirror to us all to examine our own fears of what we know and believe and indeed what we do not.
This is the story of solicitor, Arthur Kipps, recently widowed and who four years earlier had been sent from London to the coast to put in order the affairs of a recently deceased lady. The subsequent events of that journey will haunt Kipps and change his life forever.
As a way to exorcise the spectre of the Woman in Black and indeed as a causionary tale, Kipps employs an actor with whom he shares his manuscript of the events that happened.
In the play that unfolds before us we see the actor coach Kipps to perform all other parts other than his own and the story begins…..
As a lover of Gothic Horror and Ghost Stories in general I really enjoyed this production. Both David Acton (Arthur Kipps) and Matthew Spencer (The Actor) gave wonderful performances which transported the audience out of the theatre and onto the marshes. We joined Kipps and the Actor, spell bound as they told of the events surrounding the Woman in Black, eventually revealing her tale from within Kipps chilling story.
Both Acton and Spencer gave gripping performances as Kipps and the Actor in this two handed play in which you just got so much more that two chaps on a stage. The range of sound effects (Gareth Owen) and the dramatic and atmospheric lighting (Kevin Sleep) created a spellbinding backdrop on which the tale was told. There is no elaborate staging to distract you which means you are only limited by your belief in the tale and your own imagination.
There was audience participation in the form of fear and gasps and I am not 100% sure I did not hear, at one point a lady scream or was that coming from the stage?
This is a must see for anyone who loves a well told ghost story that will send a shiver up the spine. but be careful on the way home, you may not have left the theatre alone……
Following its record-breaking run in the West End, The Woman in Black returns to the New Theatre, Cardiff. It has been seen over 7 million theatregoers worldwide and has been described by the Daily Telegraph as “The most brilliantly effective spine-chiller you will ever encounter”.
Stephen Mallatratt’s ingenious stage adaptation, directed by Robin Herford, brings Susan Hill’s acclaimed ghost story to life. Of a lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over him and his family by the spectre of a Woman in Black. He engages a sceptical young actor to help him tell his terrifying story and exorcise the fear that grips his soul. It all begins innocently enough, but then, as they reach further into his darkest memories, they find themselves caught up in a world of eerie marshes and moaning winds. The borders between make believe and reality begins to blur and the flesh begins to creep.
The play utilised minimal props instead of adopting large and intricate sets, it relies solely on lighting and sound to chill and horrify its audience. However, it is was the subtle changing of lights within the theatre itself and on stage to a rustic orange in order to emulate the time period in which the story is set, and the equipment they would have owned. That not only helped the play within a play format of the show truly shine, but as Matthew Spencer character The Actor explains to Mr Kipps played by David Action Fox, one needs only to use the audience’s imagination to provide the settings. The production saw me scan the nearby aisle at regular intervals – just in case the ghostly figure made a surprise appearance. Full marks must be given to Michael Holt’s set design the lighting and sound designs of Kevin Sleep and Gareth Owen respectively.
As for the two men (Action and Spencer) in the play who spend much of the first half getting to know one another, slip in and out of character with ease, especially when The Actor descends into a sense of despair of drawing a good performance from Kipps. Who initially rails against the idea of a ‘performance’ that might be entertaining – his story is far too serious for that, yet the comedic dialogue got the audience descending into fits of laughter. Whereas the shift in mood after the interval, as Kipps’ story advances, sees The Actor descends on a journey of fear and uncertainty, with each new experience leaving him feeling ever more nervous and threatened. Eliciting shrieks and nervous laughter from the audience who jump and squirm in their seats as the play reaches its inevitable conclusion.
It is easy to why The Woman in Black is often referred to as a gripping theatrical exploration of terror. Combing the horror of a traditional ghost story and the heart-breaking subjects of loss and love using minimal tricky leaving in its wake freighting results. It is a must-see play, as long as your brave enough to come face-to-face with The Women in Black.
The Women in Black plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre from Tuesday June 6 – Saturday June 1 at 7.30pm plus Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm. For further details about the show or to book tickets visit http://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/what%27s-on/the-woman-in-black/ or call the Box Office on 02920878889.