The Woman in Black Review
Fear: a feeling of anxiety or distress caused by the presence of danger and a genre of performance that is popular with modern culture.
Audiences throughout history have enjoyed the adrenalin rush of being scared witless, as illustrated in the enduring popularity of modern ‘slasher’ films going all the way back to classic Hammer Horror.
Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel creates a chilling live action thriller that grips the audience in the eerie story with no cushions to hide behind or power off button on the remote to reach for.
Solicitor Arthur Kipps (Robert Demeger) needs to tell his story of events that affected him when he visited Nine Lives Causeway to attend the funeral and tidy up the affairs of Mrs. Drablow, a solitary woman who lived alone in Eel Marsh mansion for over 60 years and whom none of the locals dared speak of.
Enlisting the help of a young actor (Peter Bramhill) who changes the excessively wordy manuscript into dramatic form, they re-enact past events gradually revealing a sad history, the secrets of Eel Marsh and the legend of the ghost that haunts it with her dreadful purpose.
The story’s Victorian eeriness envelopes you in the twists and turns of the action, beautifully directed by Robin Hereford and intensified by Michael Holt’s grubby, gauzy design. This show doesn’t allow you to sit back and merely watch but extend your willing suspension of disbelief and compliment it’s unfolding.
Half-light (Kevin Sleep), heavy silence and spine-tingling sound effects are used with chilling outcomes. Not only does it invoke screams of fright but the production laughs at theatrical conventions and perfectly exemplifies how less is more in theatre as you are transported back to the past through the simple art of storytelling.
Only one moment mars the perfection of this production, breaking the creepiness of the title character with a pantomime villain pose in her final appearance, when continuing the subtleness would allow the final twist in the tale to be even more poignant.
However, in an age when computer-generation has taken over it’s refreshing to go back to basics; an empty stage that creates illusion with a few props and lots of imagination. Prepare to be haunted by an impressive horror story in the flesh rather than from the safety of a television screen.
© Lindsay Corr, February 2010
Times: The Woman in Black is at the King’s Theatre Edinburgh until Sat 20 Feb