Theatre Review: The Woman in Black

A scene from The Woman In Black @ Fortune Theatre. Touring Cast �Tristram Kenton
A scene from The Woman In Black @ Fortune Theatre. Touring Cast �Tristram Kenton

IT is a funny quirk of human nature that we enjoy to be frightened...provided of course it is within the safe confines of places like the cinema or theatre.

It is this delight in things that go bump in the night, that is perhaps behind the continuing success of The Woman in Black, currently showing at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton.

Now celebrating its 25th anniversary with a major tour, the popularity of Susan Hill’s best-selling novel adapted for stage by Stephen Mallatratt’s, cannot be refuted - the theatre was packed when I visited and at last check there were only a few seats left all week.

But The Woman in Black provides more than just cheap thrills, the frights in this story are truly chilling and a few dark twists make it even more so.

I won’t give too much away about its clever plot, because part of what makes this play so spell-binding is the surprises.

The play tells the story of a lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over him and his family by the spectre of a ‘Woman in Black’.

He engages a young actor to help him tell his story and to exorcise the fear that has continued to grip him years after the dark experiences he encountered at Eel Marsh House.

It all begins innocently enough, but as they reach further into his darkest memories, they find themselves caught up in an eerie world, where it is not quite clear what is ghost story and what is real.

Julian Forsyth is cast as Arthur Kipps, and few words can describe his acting, but remarkable might at a push.

Through the telling of the tale he takes on the voices of several characters, his body language, speech and mannerisms differing so much between characters, that it is easy to forget it is one man playing them.

Antony Eden plays the zealous young actor drawn into a dark world, again with great skill and sensitivity.

The special effects and set are also quite excellent, and some teenage girls provided a few more at the performance I attended, with some added blood-curdling screams.

However, one of the most magical aspects of this play is the way the location of the theatre is used as a theatrical device, rather than only trying to transport us somewhere else.

This, by effect, involves us all in the action, and as the quite chilling events unfold, the audience comes to understand that we have all seen the “Woman in Black”, so will she have her revenge?

If you want to know what I mean by this you will have to go and see the play, but with only a few tickets left you had better be quick.

The Woman in Black is at Royal & Derngate until Saturday, October 13. The last few remaining tickets are priced from £26.50 to £11. To book call Box Office on 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk.