Neil Norman, Jan 2018
Compared with The Mousetrap, The Woman In Black is a stripling, having spent a mere 28 years in the West End.
But the reasons for its longevity are similar.
It is a mystery thriller and so is familiar territory for the theatre-going tourist and it is reliable too: a ghost play guaranteed to send shivers down your spine.
Based on Susan Hill’s short novel, Stephen Mallatratt’s play is a model of theatrical economy, a two-hander with one actor playing several roles, an invisible dog and a frightening apparition. It tells the story of Arthur Kipps and his visit to the remote Eel Marsh House to manage the affairs of the deceased owner. As the tale unfolds, it tightens its grip on the spectator like a medieval instrument of torture.
Schooled by the lively Actor (James Byng), Arthur Kipps (Terence Wilton) reads his memoir to relatives, recounting the horrors of his visit. As the play progresses, The Actor becomes Kipps and encounters dreadful events involving dead children, fog, quicksand and a haunted nursery.
Having set up the story in the first half, the second half is wall-to-wall creepiness. Locked doors fly open or scream when touched, an unoccupied rocking chair rolls back and forth, lights go out and fog descends. It is all staged impeccably with amazing sound effects and shocks that make you jump out of your seat.
But it is the simplicity that impresses. It is profoundly effective and it will scare the living daylights out of you.