THEATRE REVIEW: Scare yourself at The Woman In Black

A scene from The Woman In Black
A scene from The Woman In Black

I have a nose for a good ghost story. Seriously I do.

It always happens that a properly spooky tale will make the end of my nose tingle. It might seem a bit odd but there we are. No shiver down the spine, just the nose thing.

And so with this pretty foolproof equipment I can confirm that The Woman In Black, which is on at Royal & Derngate in Northampton until Saturday, November 15, is a good, classic ghostly tale.

It tells the story of Arthur Kipps. He is haunted by a ghostly experience and he hopes that if he can tell his story to his family and friends he will rid himself of his terrible, unsettling nightmares. He is not a performer so he sets to work with an actor to find a way to tell his tale.

It unfolds cleverly as The Actor takes on the role of Kipps while Kipps himself takes on the roles of everyone else in the story. Well, almost everyone.

Kipps is a solicitor who is sent to a remote town to settle up the affairs of the late Mrs Alice Drablow. The misty, marshy landscape is well evoked on stage with just a few props and deceptively simple effects. We see Kipps travel to the isolated, tide-bound, house to go through the old lady’s papers.

I kept thinking just pack up the papers and take them somewhere less spooky to read them. Why do you have to stay there overnight, hammer on mysteriously locked doors, go wandering around a rundown graveyard? Why?

It’s only because I was worried about poor Kipps.

The performances by Malcolm James as Kipps and Matt Connor as The Actor playing him, created an air of tension and impending menace. James inhabiting numerous characters from the worn down older Kipps to the variety of spooked townsfolk that the young Kipps meets. And Connor brings a bright energy to the role of The Actor, switching clearly and believably from actor to character and back again without letting you lose the connection to either.

I had been warned just before going in that there would be plenty to make us jump with fright in the show and so I steeled myself. I can’t stop myself jumping out of my skin when Huw tests the fire alarm at work every Monday so I didn’t hold out much hope for being able to withstand any deliberate theatrical shocks. I did pretty well on not leaping out of my seat, although the audience generally were quite rattled on more than one occasion.