The Woman In Black is known for being a spine-tingling thriller, filled with chilling effects sure to get the audience shaking. It is a very, very good play with a fantastic premise and talented cast. Terrifying? Not so much. At its absolute worst, it’s slightly creepy.
I think part of this is due to the fact that the horror story being told is actually being shown to us in retrospect. Arthur Kipps (David Acton) is a haunted gentleman wishing to have his story told to his friends and family as his way of putting it to rest (this isn’t properly expanded upon enough for my personal taste, in fact it seemed odd the character would turn to an actor to help him do this). The Actor (Matthew Spencer), who is never named, encourages Arthur to help him act the story out using the simple yet impactful theatrical effects. And so they begin, The Actor taking on the role of Arthur and Arthur taking on the role of everyone else. Sometimes this multi-roling gets a bit confusing, but as the characters are all secondary their moment in the limelight soon fades and the audience’s attention is turned back to Arthur. It’s always in the back of your mind that the events aren’t really happening, that really they’re just acting which, though the events did really happen in Arthur’s life, somewhat takes the chilling effect away.
What amounts to some screaming sound effects and spooky shadows invoked a silly level of hysterical screaming from the audience. It seems the very thought of being scared was enough to create this spooky atmosphere.
David Acton does well to portray such a range of characters, though I feel little sympathy for him as Arthur. This is probably due to the real-time Arthur not really appearing very much at all. Matthew Spencer, similarly, plays the role well yet I lack an emotional connection with him. This, I wonder, may be deliberate direction by Robin Herford to create distance between the audience and the characters, to allow plenty of room to be frightened. For me personally, I would have been more frightened if I’d felt close to the characters as I would have really cared for poor Arthur. As it stands, I didn’t really care what happened to him, I just wanted to find out the end of his horror story.
The effects are undoubtedly very clever and well-executed, and this ensures the production is slick and professional. Both actors do incredibly well to sustain the performance with energy and enthusiasm. The sheer volume of lines would be draining for any actor, yet this isn’t reflected in the slightest.
The simplistic, incredibly clever way of using the props / stage effects available is of course a direct reflection of The Actor and his resources, symbolising the power of the imagination. Yes, we can all image a basket being a horse and carriage if someone acts well enough, but the thing that struck me most was their use of absolutely nothing to create the dog, Spider. How two people can conjure up a living, breathing, funny dog out of thin air using nothing but gestures and emotions is staggering and, for me, the absolute highlight of the show as it demonstrates the true talents of the entire team.
If you’re intrigued to see The Woman In Black, I would recommend this production. However, if you don’t like psychological thrillers and aren’t passionate about theatre in whatever its form, I might give this one a miss.
Catch The Woman In Black at West Yorkshire Playhouse until 29th October, before the show goes on tour.