Reviewed by Janine Rumble
The Woman in Black is a stage play based on the best-selling book of the same name by author Susan Hill, cleverly adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt and directed by Robin Herford.
This psychological thriller of a play and is set in the theatre where an old lawyer has asked an actor to help him as he tries to perform his memoirs to an audience in the hope of laying to rest the ghosts from his past. The lawyer, Arthur Kipps, played by Robert Goodale, along with actor, played by Daniel Easton, recount the story of the lawyers past, when he was a young and enthusiastic lawyer sent on assignment to an inhospitable part of coast to tie up the loose ends of one of his companies clients who has recently died, but who instead, encounters a terrible spectre and locals who are scared by the spectre and try to warn him away, but to no avail, with terrifying consequences.
This two man-acting duo will have you kept on the edge of your seats, you will laugh, you may be scared, you may scream but you will be entertained by the twists and the turns of this very clever adaptation. By setting this in a theatre, it gives the actors reign to play the two main characters and a variety of the other characters at the same time. It is done in such a way through the use of costumes and bodily and facial characteristics that you can easily believe they are the character they are portraying. It is not as confusing as it might sound, and it is a very easy story to follow. The actor’s portrayals are amazing and very believable and how they can instantly transform themselves from one character to another, each with their own complexities and mannerisms, is just tremendous.
The stage, props, lighting and sound effects all add to the mystery shrouding the play. The stage itself looks unnerving from the onset, with the stage sloped down towards the audience, ripped grey material draping the back of the stage, a coat rack on one side of the stage, a solitary chair, stool and a large wicker basket are the only props to be seen throughout the first part of the show and these are cleverly used to represent the stage of a theatre, an office, a grand house and a bedroom. The props are moved by the two actors and the costume changes take place on stage too. The lighting is grey and dismal, and the use of dry ice adds to the illusion of the sea mists. The space beyond the backdrop is cleverly used to represent the graveyard and later a boy’s bedroom and a staircase and is only lit up when in use. Being a small stage in a small theatre adds to the intensity of the thriller and gives a slightly claustrophobic feeling at the same time.
The pace of the play and the pauses of the actors and the silence and the cold in the theatre all add to make the audience members spines tingle with anticipation, so that when the inevitable happens and you know it is going to happen, you can feel it, you can sense it, it still makes you jump. You will be kept on the edge of your seat throughout the play.
I enjoyed the play and the suspense and thought it was very cleverly portrayed. Having not read the film or watched the film, I did not have any preconceived ideas or knowledge of what the story was about, so enjoyed it for the play that it was. If you like psychological thrillers and suspense, then this is the play for you.
I watched this play in the Royal Theatre. It is a lovely old building (built in 1884) connected to the newer Derngate Theatre. It retains many of the old features, which make it a beautiful theatre to be in. Although the seats can become uncomfortable after sitting on them for a long while. The Royal & Derngate is easy to get to with car parks within short walking distances away. There is disabled access throughout both buildings and the facilities are clean and presentable. There are a number of bars throughout the complex selling a range of alcohol, soft drinks, ice cream, sweets and theatre programmes. All staff are polite, helpful and courteous. I would recommend going to the Royal for the sense of history and nostalgia that only an old theatre can bring.
Tickets cost from £11 (booking fees may apply).
The Woman in Black is at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton from 30 September to 5 October 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk or call the box office on 01604 624811.
Royal & Derngate, Guildhall Road, Northampton, NN1 1DP | 01604 624811