Susan Hill and Stephen Mallatratt
PW Productions Ltd.
Palace Theatre, Manchester
23 August 2021 to 28 August 2021; Run time 2hrs
It is 34 years since Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black was adapted for the stage by the late Stephen Mallatratt and it is still going strong. Not surprising, really: this gothic ghost story slowly beckons you in with its cold fingers and you can’t look away, for it is as fascinating as it is scary.
The first act opens with elderly solicitor Arthur Kipps hiring an actor to help him retell the story of events that changed his life. This play within a play starts in a relatively light-hearted manner, but there are hints of what is to come.
The young Arthur Kipps (Antony Eden) is sent to distant parts to sort out paperwork and attend the funeral of a late client. It isn’t long, however, before things take a sinister turn. Just what happened at Eel Marsh House and the eerie Nine Lives Causeway? Who is, or was, the mysterious woman in black?
Eden confidently takes Kipps from a professional, keen to make his mark, through various stages of anxiety, fear and panic, to a state of tremulous emotion.
Robert Goodale plays all the other characters (bar one) from Keckwick, the morose driver of a pony and trap to the goodhearted businessman Sam Daily. He rises to the challenge.
These are substantial asks for any actor and the pair’s interactions and timing are well executed.
The outstanding features of the production, however, are the lighting and sound effects. Together they build an atmosphere of tension and anticipation that has the audience on the edge of its collective seat and at some points, jumping out of it.
Mallatratt wrote “The intent of the show is to frighten – so if it doesn’t, it’s nothing.” This production meets that intent admirably.
Ticket info here.