The Woman In Black is at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh this week (Tue 12 Oct to Sat 16 Oct) and, as always, this stage adaptation of Susan Hill’s now classic 1983 gothic horror novel is filling the theatre seats with new and old fans of both the book and the play.
The Woman in Black is now the stuff of theatrical legend as it is now, at over 30 years, the second longest-running play in the history of the West End, after The Mousetrap. Why is this so, how did playwright Stephen Mallatratt manage this elusive feat of theatrical magic? Perhaps there is no one answer to that question, or even many reasons because if this was a formula then everyone could, and would, be doing it, yet so many others simply fail.
For me, the real reason this story works so well is that at the core there are two basic ingredients – a good story, and good theatre stripped down to what two gifted actors can do on stage to not only bring the words of that story to life but also their ability to engage the imaginations of their audience.
In this touring production, those gifted actors are Robert Goodale as Arthur Kipps and Antony Eden as The Actor, and their ability to breathe life into multiple roles by only their skills as performers and a few very basic props is a joy to watch. Their ability by gentle suggestion to make us, the audience, imagine in our minds what not only this gothic world looks like, but also trains, pony and traps, even a dog that is not there, is amazing.
This stage production of The Woman in Black also cleverly avoids the all too often disastrous attempts to bring books to the stage by keeping the core elements of the book but looking at them from a different perspective. This does, however, require time to build up new layers of story-telling that can at times break the suspense of the main story a little, but when it is done this well, that can be forgiven.
The two stars, Robert Goodale and Antony Eden, are not the only stars in this production though, and very clever use of both sound and stage-lighting make us all realise just how important these two often overlooked elements (by audiences) are to any production, and here they are as much a part of the story as any written word. Another star in this production is The King’s Theatre itself and a production like this really needs an original Edwardian auditorium like this (opening in 1906) to add that extra atmosphere to everything. This production would just not be the same in a modern “utilitarian box”.
The Woman in Black is a reminder of why live theatre can provide an experience that no other media can match if the production knows how to use that space to its best advantage. If you have a liking for classic gothic horror then give this show a visit. If you are a student on a drama course anywhere across town and reading this review, then go to The Woman in Black simply to watch and learn how the job should be done.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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