The opening lines were dreadful. Mumbled through his fingers and probably inaudible for anyone beyond row L. Purposefully so, the awkward reading of an approximately five-hour long manuscript was a fun introduction to a harrowing tale.
Robin Herford directs Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel, The Woman in Black. The audience feels uncomfortably invisible as Arthur Kipps (Robert Goodale) employs the help of The Actor (Daniel Easton) to help him tell his very real ghost story.
Rehearsing in an empty theatre, The Woman in Black becomes a play within a play throwing its spectators in and out of the pair’s rehearsals. The Actor transforms into a young Arthur Kipps, and Arthur Kipps becomes several pivotal supporting characters, before snapping back to reality as the real Arthur struggles to give an Olivier-worthy performance whilst reliving his terrifying ordeal.
It’s when the real Arthur dons a pair of glasses that he seems to hilariously glitch into a totally engrossed actor playing his many roles. Goodale switches from character to character and back to Arthur seamlessly making him fascinating to watch, adding another gripping element to the already engrossing play.
Easton plays an enthusiastic Actor and likeable young Arthur with limitless energy. He holds the audience as he propels the narrative along.
Both performers have a great responsibility to keep the audience engaged as do the production team following what must be artful and fast-paced cues to ensure all jump scares are delivered effectively.
Speaking of scares, Herford’s direction produces as much laughter as it does gasps and shrieks, if not more. Eccentric characters and their humourous moments trick you into a false sense of security that make the scares of the show – which we won’t reveal here but they do involve the iconic hand shadow, locked door, and rocking chair – so jump-out-of-your-seat worthy.
It’s a show all about using your imagination. How can you create a horse and trap out of a wicker basket, and fall in love with a dog that doesn’t exist? With one ingenious playwright, one successful director, two brilliant actors, a meticulous production team, and a helping of audience imagination.
It, of course, wouldn’t be right not to mention the unnamed woman in black who possesses the stage from time to time in a truly terrifying and psychotic manner. The subtlety and exaggeration of her movements are perfectly timed in preparation to deliver a very, very unsettling ending...