The Woman in Black – Review – York Theatre Royal
By Kirsty Reid, November 2019
When a friend suggested a trip to the theatre to see The Woman in Black, I admit, I was a little apprehensive. Not because I don’t like the theatre, but because I’m a massive wuss when it comes anything remotely frightening. But I decided to bite the bullet – after all, how scary can a theatre production be? Well, very scary as it turns out.
The plot is simple enough, but the way it’s delivered is where the real talent lies. Stephen Mallatratt’s ingenious stage version of Susan Hill’s horror fiction was first performed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Hill’s hometown of Scarborough.
Mallatratt’s play-within-a-play begins in a dark and dusty theatre where elderly lawyer Arthur Kipps (Robert Goodale) hires a young actor (Daniel Easton) to help him tell the terrifying tale that has haunted him for most of his life. The tale, of course, is that of The Woman in Black. ‘It must be told,’ says Arthur, ‘I cannot bear the burden any longer.’
“Powerful and confident”
Though a little slow to begin with, the pace soon quickens as the story begins to unfold and the pair find themselves in the midst of some very ghostly goings-on. While I find myself captivated, if not a little scared.
It soon transpires that as a young lawyer, Arthur was sent to a remote village to put deceased Alice Drablow’s affairs in order. Soon after his arrival, it becomes apparent that there is more to Mrs Drablow and her home, Eel Marsh House, than he first thought – it is here he encounters The Woman in Black.
As a two-hander, the production needs talented actors for this to work. It’s fortunate, then, that Daniel Easton and Robert Goodale are up to the job.
With ample stage experience, Easton is brilliant. Though powerful and confident in his role as The Actor, it is in his portrayal of Mr Kipps where he really thrives, taking the audience on a roller coaster of emotions.
Playing multiple characters throughout, Goodale was equally as brilliant as he switches between roles with ease, while adding a little humour to the production. Goodale demonstrates his diversity best in his role of Kipps, building his character from a shy, mumbling man to a confident actor.
With few props or visuals, the pair manage to bring the tale to life in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible. Two chairs, a clothes rail, a basket and some tatty dust sheets – that’s all the duo have to utilise.
It’s all about ‘imagination’ explains The Actor, cue the sound of horse hooves, thunder and spine-chilling screams. Kudos to the sound designer Sebastian Frost whose simple, yet effective, audio will have you on the edge of your seat in suspense.
There are no hi-tech special effects, bar a little stage smoke, instead lighting plays a key role in setting the scene. Kevin Sleep’s lighting design uses carefully placed shadows to capture the eerie marshlands where Mr Kipps’ tale is predominately set. It’s frightfully good!
images: Daniel Easton