Writer: Susan Hill
Adaptation: Stephen Mallatratt
Director: Robin Herford
3 ½ stars
The desire to be scared out of our wits shows no sign of waning. Last year saw the first national tour of a theatrical adaptation of The Exorcist, and this year the hit play Ghost Stories is on tour. As well as being terrifying, these two productions share a common bond; they owe a great debt to the Godfather of horror theatre The Women in Black, which has been scaring audiences for 30 years now, and shows no signs of giving up the ghost just yet!
Based on the 1983 Novel by Susan Hill and adapted for the stage by the late Stephen Mallatratt, this atmospheric chillier has paved the way for theatrical ‘spooky’ stories. The production sees retired solicitor, Arthur Kipps attempting to tell a dark story from his past, the story of his time at the isolated and desolate Eel Marsh House, located in a North Eastern English market town. To do justice to the horrors he encountered, Kipps enlists that help of an unnamed actor to help him. The two men are at odds with what they want from the experience: Kipps wants to find the courage to finally put his nightmare behind him. The Actor wants to tell the story using all the trickery, razzmatazz of theatre and his own skills as a performance. What follows is a nightmarish journey filled with laughs and frights as we witness the full horror of Eel Marsh House and the sheer evil of its vengeful resident.
This is a two hander with both leads on fine form. Daniel Easton plays the confident unnamed actor, and the younger Arthur Kipps to perfection effortlessly switching between the brash thespian and a man trapped in a situation that he has no control over. Robert Goodale is equally impressive and plays the older, broken Kipps, displaying elements of trauma throughout. In addition, he plays a variety of supporting character, whilst both act as narrator throughout. The two have tremendous chemistry, and surprisingly inject a great deal of humour into the production, especially during the opening act.
The play’s main strength comes from its ability to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. Actors regularly enter through the stalls, using not just the stage, but the whole theatre as performance space, this coupled Sebastian Frost’s outstanding sound design created a nervousness that spreads throughout the audience. The fact that the setting of the play is in a theatre makes it seem that anything is possible. During tonight’s performance a technical difficultly during the final act led to the play being suspended for five minutes and judging by the reaction of some audience members, this brief interruption added to the drama, with many unsure if it was part of the performance or not.
Sadly, when the play did resume the final act was spoilt by the sound of a talking alarm clearly audible over the actors, which was a shame for all involved (strange forces at work maybe!)
In many ways the less you know about the production, the better it is. The Women in Black is a rollercoaster ride of emotions; at times it’ll make you laugh and others it’ll scare the life out of you! Fans of the genre will love it, as this is a hark back to M.R James, ghost stories, often on TV during over Christmas and the winter months. Those who are unsure, it’s certainly worth a watch, at the very least it’ll give you a kick up the backside to finally sort the spare room out!
The Women In Black is touring nationwide until May.
See https://www.thewomaninblack.com/ticket-info/uk-tour for more details and tickets