There must be a part of everyone that enjoys a good Ghost story – huddled around a fire in the dark with friends, trying to make each other jump and scream. Considering that and being so close to Halloween this production is well timed in coming to Leeds as tonight, first and foremost two actors presented us with just that - a terrifying ghost story! Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black has continued to fright and delight audiences for nearly 30 years after it was first adapted by Stephen Mallatratt into a play, but it is not only a great ghost story, but look a little closer and it is also a masterpiece of theatrical storytelling.
Pleasingly, not much has changed in this production since first I saw it nearly 20 years ago myself. Of course the cast have changed several times, but we still have two superb actors who bring to life Arthur Kipps (David Acton) who has hired an Actor (Matthew Spencer) to help him tell the story of what he encountered many years ago at Eel Marsh House, when we went to settle the affairs of the late Mrs Drablow. It was here in the marshes that Kipps uncovered the dreadful secret of the mysterious Woman in Black who haunts the local people who dare to even speak about her existence. He hopes by telling the story he can put to bed the nightmares that have followed him all these years. We are transformed then into an “empty theatre” as we see these two men take turns in narrating the story and portraying each of the characters that Kipps encountered in this terrifying tale.
Both actors play their parts superbly and with some simple costume items, props, changes in voice and mannerism become the varied parts needed to tell this story. In fact such is the perfection in their craft that you would swear you can even tell which breed of dog the invisible Spider is!
It is obvious that I cannot give much more away but what it is clear in this production is that it teaches us that the use of imagination in the theatre is key. As an audience we are transported into this story through the very fundamentals of theatrical storytelling – recorded sound, lighting, a gauze, smoke and expertly timed moments combine to make the audience gasp, jump and scream in terror (and delight) throughout the evening. The tension through the silence at times this evening was deafening as this busy theatre collectively sat on the edge of their seats. I had had my concerns that The West Yorkshire Playhouse would not be the suitable venue to tell this story, I had always felt a more traditional theatre would suit this very Victorian setting. I should not have been concerned as what was proved tonight was all you need is great actors, some simple stage effects and a compelling story to have your audience gripped; and that we were.
Reviewer: Ashley Price
Reviewed: 25th October 2016
North West End Rating: ★★★★★