The Woman in Black At Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent Review


Reviewed by Jayne Knight

Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent

Monday 27th September 2021

The Woman in Black

Opening night at Hanley, Stoke on Trent and I was ready for a good ghost story. I was not disappointed. This is a novel that I have known about for many years, yet have never read the book, seen the film, or the play, so I had no preconceived ideas of what I had let myself in for.

On arrival at the theatre, the audience all had to prove they were COVID safe, either proving status (double jabbed) or temperatures taken where necessary. The staff were all wearing masks and despite the precautions were happy to see the theatre open again.

The courtesy and helpfulness of the staff went above and beyond. I spotted a young man on crutches, who was offered the use of the disabled lift and I was offered the use of the main lift to access the Piano Bar where the drinks for myself and my partner were carried to a table and on exiting, I was shown an easier way to my seat. Nothing was too much trouble.

The play is an adaptation by Stephen Mallatratt, from the original novel by Susan Hill and it certainly did not disappoint. My first, at any performance, is to read the programme, so I was most surprised to note that there were only two performers, Robert Goodale (Arthur Kipps – not to be confused with a character of the same name in Half a Sixpence)) and Antony Eden (the actor). I had no previous knowledge of either actor, which surprised me as an avid theatre goer, so had no expectations. With no mention of acts, scenes etc my interest levels peaked. However, as the story unfolded, it became clear that the entirety of the story is set within the theatre, with no requirement of frills.

The stage was set as a working theatre of the 1950’s, with grey tattered drapes, an old chair, stool, wicker basket and clothes on a rail, all of which served as the main props for the evening. The stage is also hiding a secret, with only a change of lighting and projection, more sets are revealed; the outline of Eel Marsh House, a graveyard, nursery and the stairs leading to the nursery. The masterpiece of disguising the nursery by dust sheets, giving the shape of gravestones was inspired thought, as I don’t know what I thought was underneath the sheets – my brain was telling me graveyard. Maybe this was the advantage of not knowing the story beforehand.

Arthur Kipps is a man with a story to tell. He was asked, by his step-children, one Christmas Eve, to tell a ghost story, but was unable. His distress at the fact that he had actually lived with the most tragic of ghost stories was the reason, but he felt the need to write down his experiences and it is only now, many years later that he feels able to reveal the past. Kipps is at the theatre to rehearse his memories in readiness for recounting them to his family and friends.

As a junior solicitor Kipps is sent to wind up the affairs of Alice Drablow, who lived in a property in a remote part of England, surrounded by marshes and at the end of a causeway which is frequently shrouded in sea mists. It is soon apparent that the village in which Kipps has taken lodgings hides a terrible secret – one that will unfold, with disastrous consequences when the Woman in Black is seen. No-one is beyond her reach.

It is obvious in the first few lines that by his intonation, lack of being able to take direction and nerves at being on a stage that Kipps is ‘not an actor’ – his words. The actor, who is attempting to give guidance comes up with the idea of himself taking the part of Kipps, whilst Kipps becomes the narrator, taking the parts of the others tangled up in his story, which brings about a remarkable transformation, once the pressure of recounting as himself is relieved.

As the terrible story of Eel Marsh House emerges Robert Goodale played many different personas, from Kipps elder self, his boss Mr. Bentley, to Mr. Daily, a local landowner, a carter and an undertaker. His acting was superb, each character distinctly different from the other, but I did find on occasion that some of the words were indistinct. Whether this was through the speed at which a line was delivered, or the nature of Kipps himself I could not say. I would like to think the latter.

Anthony Eden becomes Kipps in his younger life. He suffers the nightmare that emanates from the property as he reads the manuscript. The audience sees and experiences all that Kipps himself felt all those years previously. The night Kipps stays at Eel Marsh House is spectacular in its imagery. I felt that I was an outsider looking in, with the expectation of what was to come. Again, the acting was superb as Eden switched between two characters.

Neither Robert Goodale, nor Anthony Eden could have portrayed their characters, with the depth of feeling shown, without the support of the technical teams for sound, lighting and effects. There was laughter in appropriate places, gasps and at one point a suppressed scream was heard from one member of the audience. With crashes, bangs and creaks and screams in all of the appropriate places the retelling of this ghost story is breath taking. Congratulations to PW productions for another exciting, not to miss, production.

Expect the unexpected in this fantastic performance – watch out for the Woman in Black as she appears silently, gliding, disappearing as quickly as she came.

The production will run until Saturday, with a matinee performance on Wednesday at 14.30. The show runs for two hours with a 15-minute interval. There is an age guidance of 12+. Ticket prices start at £13 (booking fee may apply)

Rating: 5/5

For more information or to book tickets, please visit The Woman in Black Tickets | Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent in Stoke-on-Trent | ATG Tickets.

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