REVIEW: THE WOMAN IN BLACK (Fortune Theatre) ★★★★★
Susan Hill’s 1983 classic ghost story The Woman In Black was first adapted into a play in 1987, playing the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough before transferring to The West End and landing in its current home at the Fortune Theatre. This Wednesday marked the 30th Anniversary at The Fortune Theatre and PW Productions hosted a celebratory performance with the show’s director Robin Herford, producer Peter Wilson, theatre glitterati and a sleuth of previous cast members all in attendance.
Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s best-selling novel tells the story of lawyer Arthur Kipps obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over his family by the spectre of a Woman in Black. He employs a young actor to help him deliver his story to family and friends and hopefully eradicate his nightmares and on-going fears. It begins innocently enough, but as the pair explore the tale, they find themselves caught up in a world of eerie marshes and moaning winds and the lines between make-believe and reality begin to blur.
Mallatratt’s adaptation employs just two actors and The Woman In Black currently stars Stuart Fox as Arthur Kipps and Matthew Spencer as The Actor. As Arthur Kipps, Stuart Fox gives an honest and affecting performance. As the show unfolds and the audience learn more about Kipps’ horrific encounters, Fox allows the audience to really see how the years of living with his story has effected Kipps and presents a broken but determined man. Fox also plays multiple characters and the wonderfully written play within a play adaption allows for this easy transition. Matthew Spencer as The Actor really shines. Able to deliver an emotional roller-coaster from various comedy moments to being utterly frozen in fear, Spencer uses his exceptional skill to woo the audience into the story… and a false sense of security. Quietly sombre in places and then shockingly frightening, Spencer never misses a beat setting the pace of the play from the beginning and leading it through to it’s shocking conclusion. Both Fox and Spencer work together extremely well, showing that sometimes the very best in theatre magic is a classic ghost story simply acted by two people.
At this gala performance, director Robin Herford and producer Peter Wilson mounted the stage during the curtain call to explain the interesting history of the plays journey to the Fortune Theatre, pointing out and thanking original investors and asking the mutiple previous cast in attendance to stand for a round of applause. During their speeches, the audience got the feeling they were attending a celebratory family reunion which resulted in a very special night had by all.
Recent horror or ghost plays have relied on special effects and loud sound effects to elicit scares. The Woman In Black’s strength lies in the combination of a classic story, superb performances, simple spooky effects and brilliantly crafted adaptation resulting in a classy and timeless stage adaptation. Still going strong at The Fortune Theatre, The Woman In Black is celebrating it’s 30 year milestone by offering £30 tickets in the Stalls and Dress Circle across June and July. There’s never been a better time to settle in for a night of excellent storytelling and spooky chills at The Woman In Black.
Reviewed by Stuart James
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