REVIEW: THE WOMAN IN BLACK (Richmond Theatre) ★★★
The Woman in Black is a quintessential gothic horror featuring all the usual tropes of the genre – a bleak rural location, a haunted house, engulfing mist, a funeral, a graveyard, a mysterious family tragedy, an empty, self perpetuating rocking chair and the obligatory haunting chimes of an old music box, set into motion by an otherworldly hand.
As with all great works of gothic horror the key is in the anticipation, with audiences having to wait until nearly the half way point before catching their first glimpse of the eponymous Woman in Black. And even after she is first sighted, she is only fleetingly on stage throughout the rest of the play, and it is that sense of the unknown, and the idea that she could appear anywhere, and at any moment, that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.
The staging is simple but effective, with the premise of a low-budget ‘play within a play’ allowing a minimalist set that requires the audience to use a lot of imagination in order to suspend their disbelief. This sense of imaginative improvisation is particularly evident when the actors are stroking an invisible dog, which compromises the sense of realism somewhat.
Where the staging does come to life, however, is its use of light and shadow to create a sense of dread, no more so than when a mysterious door is illuminated in such a way as to make it at once alluring and ominous. Throw in some startling sound effects and some stage smoke, and it is at times very atmospheric and evocative.
Both actors play their parts well, especially the elder gentleman Mr Kipps (David Acton) who inhabits a number of unique and contrasting characters over the course of the production. He and The Actor (Matthew Spencer) sustain a good energy throughout and have an evident rapport.
Ultimately, it is often the case that objects of terror turn out to be something of a letdown, and so it proves in this production. While there are moments of suspense and some gasps from the audience, there is nothing to elicit any genuine fear or to make you jump with fright.
With an ending which is predictable and too well telegraphed, it all feels a little anti-climactic. Much like the character it is named after, the Woman in Black is never quite terrifying, but is still very engaging, and frightening enough to make you grateful for a well-lit journey home.
Reviewed by Chris Pickett
WOMAN IN BLACK Tour Dates
Until 24th September, The Richmond Theatre
26th September – 1st October, Cambridge Arts Theatre
4th – 8th October, Windsor Theatre Royal
10th – 15th October, Northampton R&D
18th – 22nd October, The Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent
24th – 29th October, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
1st – 5th November, Canterbury Marlowe Theatre
7th – 12th November, Liverpool Playhouse
14th – 19th November, Exeter Northcott Theatre
21st – 26th November, Bath Theatre Royal
29th November – 3rd December, The Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
9th – 14th January 2017, Southend Palace Theatre
17th – 21st January, Glasgow Kings Theatre
23rd – 28th January, Cheltenham Everyman Theatre
30th January – 4th February, Leicester Curve
6th – 11th February, The Courtyard Theatre, Hereford
13th – 18th February, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen
20th – 25th February, Theatre Royal Nottingham
27th February – 4th March, Princess Theatre Torquay
6th – 11th March, Grand Opera House, Belfast
13th – 18th March, Dublin Gaiety
20th – 25th March, Salford Lowry
27th March – 1st April, New TR Portsmouth
3rd – 8th April, Bromley Churchill Theatre
10th – 15th April, The New Victoria Theatre, Woking
17th – 22nd April, Norwich Theatre Royal
24th – 29th April, Theatre Royal Newcastle
1st – 6th May, Inverness Eden Court Theatre
8th – 13th May, Doncaster Cast
22nd – 27th May, Wolverhampton Grand
5th – 10th June, Cardiff New Theatre
For additional tour dates, including December 2016, please see www.thewomaninblack.com