The Fortune Theatre, built in 1924 on the ashes of the Albion Pub is a suitably spooky setting for Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, now in its 29th year. It abounds with tales of ghosts; the broken hearted flower seller who appears once a year in the circle to wait for his illicit love; the smell of lavender in the royal box in summer; and knocking behind mirrors back stage. Currently starring Terence Wilton as the lawyer haunted by his experiences in remote England and resigned to ease his pain by telling his tale, and James Byng as the actor hired to help him capture the spirit of performance and engage the audience, Stephen Mallatratt‘s adaptation draws you in, as the audience is transported from an empty stage where the older Arthur Kipps starts to relax into his story telling with the support of this young actor to the wilds of Eelee Marsh House rising out of the mist.
The production does an impressive job of building the atmosphere, through a mixture of lighting, smoke and sound – we all know the scares are coming but they still take you by surprise when they arrive. It moves slowly (perhaps almost too slowly midway through the play) but the payoff is bold, emotive and leaves the audience gasping into the darkness.
Wilton impresses as the older version of Kipps, adding the solemnity to the role and variety of supporting characters needed to bring the tale to life and Byng (reminiscent of a young Rob Brydon at times) moves between the upbeat young actor and the serious and spooked Kipps with ease.
We may not want to believe in ghosts but The Woman in Black (and whatever will follow) is lurking and you will find it hard not to let her get under your skin – a spookily satisfying experience.
Reviewed by Ana Von Dienstag
Photo: Mark Douet