The Woman in Black ( 26/February/2010 )
The curtain goes away and the audience goes quiet. A very shy man called Arthur Kipps (Robert Demerger) starts telling a story, in a monotone drone that might give you the idea of getting a refund.
But it’s all misdirection. Remember this, because The Woman in Black is all about misdirection.
He’s promptly interrupted by an unnamed actor (Peter Bramhill), with his entrance being one of many loud moments in the mostly sombre play. The audience reacts with a collective gasp (he enters shouting). It won’t be the last time there’s a collective sound from the audience.
Using the oldie but goldie trope of “play within a play”, we are treated to Kipps’ story. He needs the actor to go over a script he’s done as in order to achieve catharsis over a horrible, traumatic experience that has brought him from being a staunch, confident solicitor into a broken man.
Retelling that trauma is what drives The Woman in Black along. The selfreferential web unravels slowly, giving it enough time to breathe, creating a feeling of discomfort in the audience while playing out a few old tricks that might seem cliché (spooky recordings) but work magnificently as enough tension is built to justify the scares.
Adapted by Stephen Mallatrat from Susan Hill’s book, the show is beyond barebones (although there’s some superb scenery later in the play) and the ingenuity of playing pretend (Invisible dog! Invisible pony cart!) both helps to exercise the audience’s immersion and give some sorely needed humour to ease up the creep factor.
And does the play deliver the spooks? Sure it does. Ambient sounds, footsteps, lightning tricks (a screen not unlike the ones used for pepper ghosts) and the commitment of the actors to truly show the horror of their situation are the main ingredients for this spectacle.
Quickie cultural aside: this play has been running in Mexico for more than 20 years. Imagine how timeless is to achieve that in a country where theatre doesn’t really get that much attention?
Revealing anything from the plot would be detrimental suffice to say is: it’s a simple horror story, but the twists are good enough to keep your attention to the whole proceeding. Both Bramhill and Demerger are excellent and Robin Herford’s direction pretty excellent.
The more horrifying aspect of the whole play? The ruddy seats at the Lycaeum, of course.
But seriously, it’s quite an experience and I can’t stress this enough: kudos to the two chaps for carrying the whole thing on their backs. It probably is taxing to do such a demanding show and being able to keep the emotions around must’ve been a struggle, but the emotional payoff (and that final scare) is well worth it.