Review: ★★★★ The Woman In Black, Fortune Theatre

Celebrating 30 years in London’s West End, The Woman in Black boasts a brand new cast. Starring Richard Hope as ‘Arthur Kipps’ and Mark Hawkins as ‘The Actor’,

Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s best-selling novel tells the story of a lawyer who believes his family is haunted by the curse of a mysterious spectre. In the hope that it may finally exorcise his fear, he engages the help of a young actor to shape his story into a play and tell his tale. A play-within-a-play, The Woman in Blackmanifests the old-fashioned power of theatre. Imagination is key and the show relies greatly upon the audience to extend their imagination and suspension of belief.

Set inside an empty, Victorian theatre – as if that wasn’t scary enough – the play has to also paint the picture of the eerily gaunt and isolated Eel Marsh House, the graveyard, the marshes and the horror that pervades. Michael Holt’s design with minimal props and Gareth Owen’s simplest of sound effects, transport the audience from place to place in seconds. Add to this, Kevin Sleep’s inventive use of lights, and a previously invisible door or room is suddenly revealed when lit from a different angle.

Robin Herford has directed every recast of The Woman in Blackand therefore knows the importance of atmosphere and the building of tension on stage. Much of the success of the show comes from his and Mallatratt’s manipulation of the audience’s expectations. The essential simplicity of a gash in a piece of fabric to give a glimpse of the darkness behind, is surprisingly effective and shows that the mere suggestion of unglimpsed terror holds far more fear than if something is fully observed.

Hope and Hawkins are on fine form; producing some of the finest acting to be seen on the West End. Both performers make, what is essentially a 2 hour, two-handed performance, seem effortless.

The ‘surprise’ referred to throughout the piece is fairly obvious and the loud female screams, although extremely effective when first used, soon slip into melodrama by the third outing. An enthralling, theatrical experience, none the less, The Woman in Black is more than just a ghost story. The repression of grief, anger and the ability to forgive are all important themes found within what is essentially a terrible human tragedy.

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