Click here!


Theatre Review: The Woman in Black ***

Scott Purvis-Armour reviews an 'immersive seance between the design and text' that takes too long to get going.

Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of The Woman in Black has been haunting theatres since 1989. With 13,232 London performances under her bonnet, Susan Hill’s horror was finally exorcised in March 2023, conjuring audience notoriety and possessing the accolade of being the second-longest running play in West End history.

Its narrative follows a quietly simple conceit: Arthur Kipps, an ageing lawyer, enlists the help of a young actor to help him stage a reading of his memoir. The yellowed pages of his dry tome tell the tale of his nightmarish memories of “The Woman in Black”, a vengeful spirit who haunts the halls of his deceased client’s manor. As the play develops, this controlled musing on the art of acting develops into a jump-scare thrill ride where lighting, sound and set conspire to hammer the heart and stir the senses.

Largely set on a skeleton stage of old gauzes, the play’s structure is something of a ghost train. The audience gently settles into the first act and faces the uphill slope of its slow-paced script. At times foreboding - and at times boring - the action racks and clacks with the anticipation of something spooky—something sinister—right around the bend: sometimes a scream of sound appears out of nowhere and unseats the passenger; sometimes the bend reveals nothing more than an empty corridor as the horror of the past freefalls into the safety of the present.

Malcolm James and Mark Hawkins are a versatile pairing in this two-hander: they put on different roles like shrouds and carry the play’s Edwardian language lightly. The difficulty for them is that the text of the first act of the play is at times dull; it isn’t until the mystery of the Woman is fully unpacked in the last twenty minutes that the play allows itself to become a true horror show. When this happens, it leaves audiences shrieking with delight and inhaling shocked breaths that could extinguish candlelight.

In its last gasps, it’s clear why this piece has sold hundreds of thousands of tickets across three decades: The Woman in Black is an immersive seance between the design and text, playing with its audiences’ emotions like a haunted piano and leaving them alone in the dark, ready for the next thrill. It’s just a pity that this decomposition takes so long…

The Woman in Black was at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow. It continues its UK tour.

Tags: theatre

Comments: 0 (Add)

To post a comment, you need to sign in or register. Forgotten password? Click here.

Find a show

Search the site

Find us on …

Find us on FacebookFollow us on TwitterFind us on YouTube