My Stage is the World

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive

Do you believe in ghosts? Maybe you should…

on June 18, 2015

Ghouls and ghosts have always fascinated man, whether or not you choose to believe in their existence. Dripping pipes, abandoned libraries and creepy woods always seem to be a typical setting. Or a is the case with The Woman in Black, a dead woman’s deserted house on the marshes. Where there’s a cruel wind and a mist that rises from the sea unexpectedly. I mean really it’s an accident waiting to happen…

Eel Marsh House belonged to the recently deceased Alice Drablow – a widow and recluse. Arthur Kipps is sent as a young solicitor to attend the funeral and to organise and sort out her affairs. It’s a long way from London and his fiancée Stella but off he goes with no idea what is awaiting him on the marsh…

Years later, Mr Kipps (Julian Forsyth) has written down his unbelievable story and asks an actor (Antony Eden) to help him share it with his family. With the actor playing Mr Kipps and Mr Kipps taking on all other characters, it is in this way that we learn what really happened…

Julian Forsyth & Antony Eden in The Woman in Black

Julian Forsyth & Antony Eden

The way The Woman in Black is staged is a unique idea, but it does cause the play to begin quite slowly, with a lot of stopping and starting as Arthur is put through his paces by the eager young actor. However, the audience are drawn into the story so gradually that it’s all the more startling when things take a turn for the unusual.

The stage is scarce, with few props or scenery throughout most of the production, but we learn – as Arthur does – the power of recorded sound and the imagination. For even a weathered audience cannot help but fabricate their own version of events as the story unfolds.

Sitting in the stalls with empty seats behind and to the side of you actually enhances the experience because you’re pretty sure that at some point, someone (or something) will tap you on the shoulder and there are plenty of furtive looks from the audience.

Antony Eden as The Actor in The Woman in Black

Antony Eden as The Actor

The two performers are truly remarkable, managing to hold the audience spellbound, despite nothing really happening. Their incredible acting help to fuel the audience’s imagination and turn Susan Hill’s fairly dull book into a pretty decent play.

The Woman in Black is not horrifyingly scary, but Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation does give you the chills and make your heart race – even when you know something is about to happen you still jump quite a few times.

What’s interesting is the psychology surrounding the play. The audience expect things to happen, so are on edge, which in turn makes them more jumpy at smaller things they don’t expect… at one point when a door opens by itself the intakes of breath and screams from the audience makes this more of a shock than a shadowy figure in the graveyard. Then there’s the underlying back story and the woman’s desire for vengeance – the concept of her ability to travel hundreds of miles to wreak her revenge is a truly terrifying thought.

What I would say, is that the auditorium itself should be darker, to enhance the drama of the story. It was too easy to feel reassured The beginning is also a little too drawn out when everyone is eager to get to the scary parts. While this may lure the audience into a false sense of security,it feels a little forced.

However, The Woman in Black is an extremely clever (not to mention creepy) stage play and it does make you jump; with the added sense of foreboding and the small cast, it becomes all the more intimate and intimidating.

3.5*

The Woman in Black is on at The Fortune Theatre, London

Photos ©Tristram Kenton

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