Reviewed by Joanna Woodburn
The trailer for The Woman in Black, which celebrates ‘three spine tingling decades’ of West End theatre certainly raised my expectations as I arrived with anticipation at the Regent Theatre in search of a late Halloween scare.
With 30 years of unanimous acclaim, The Woman in Black is now on tour and playing in Stoke-on-Trent.
The Regent Theatre originally opened in 1929 as a super cinema. It reopened in 1999 following a £23 million development of the city centre and is now a number one touring venue, playing host to a the very best in drama, musicals, opera and dance.
The theatre is a majestic and stylish venue. With its impressive dome and beautiful décor, seats are most comfortable and there is ample leg room. Staff certainly go the extra mile to look after their patrons. The John Street multi story car park is only a few minutes away, with very reasonable, well-lit parking after 6 pm and there is disabled parking opposite the theatre.
The Woman in Black is a clever mystery tale, adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the novel by Susan Hill and is a perfect example of thriller theatre at its finest. As the suspense builds and surprises abound, there were moments which sent shivers down my spine alongside others when I was jumping out of my seat with fright!
It tells the tale of young Arthur Kipps, a solicitor, who visits the remote and mysterious Eel Marsh House to wrap up the estate of a recently deceased Alice Drablow. As he discovers, local people will not visit the house for fear of a curse and so he is on his own as he comes face to face with the woman in black. It is with unmentionable consequences Kipps uncovers her secrets as he delves deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding her.
The play is set years later, as a play within a play, an effective concept which adds to the anticipation in the first half. As Kipps commits to telling his ghostly tale to an enthusiastic actor, he hopes that by telling his tale he will exorcise the fear that grips him.
As the story unfolds, the pace builds up alongside the tension and takes the audience on a roller-coaster of fear and emotion with a good number of comedy moments thrown in. Imagination fired, nerves on edge – the pleasure of a brilliant ghost story masterfully told.
As essentially a two-man show, Robert Goodale as Arthur Kipps and Daniel Easton as The Actor rise to the challenge, with convincing and superbly acted performances. Both actors are masters at the rise and fall of storytelling, lulling the audience into a sense of quiet security only to then shock and frighten. They work together very well to sustain a tense atmosphere with brilliant control, reminding us that silences can be as terrifying as blood curdling sound effects!
The staging of the play is extraordinarily effective. The minimal set and the few excellent sound and smoke effects dramatically add to the atmosphere of the play, encouraging the audience to use their imagination above all else. The use of lightning leads to many ‘jumpy’ moments and palpable feelings of panic.
The intimacy of the Regent Theatre also adds to the success of the production. Without spoiling any surprises, there are moments when one can almost feel the fear and shock moving through the audience and the involuntarily screams (myself included!) from time to time only add to the eeriness and tension.
The Woman in Black is a must see. Huge congratulations to the cast and production team. It runs at the Regent Theatre until Saturday 9th November.
Over 7 million people have lived to tell the tale. Will you?
Tickets cost from £13 (plus £3.65 transaction fee)
The Woman in Black is at the Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent from 5-9 November 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/regent-theatre or call the box office on 0844 871 7649.
Regent Theatre, Piccadilly, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, ST1 1AP | 0844 871 7649