Let me start by saying that yesterday’s trip to see The Woman in Black wasn’t my first. Or my second. Or my third.
According to my last count I think it was viewing number six.
But I've never seen it in its West End home, never before sat three rows back from the stage, and not been for the last three years, so managed to justify another trip.
The Woman in Black is one of those shows many people have seen; it’s got a (well-deserved) fantastic reputation, and is celebrating 25 years in the West End.
Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s wonderful novel manages to maintain the tension and atmosphere of the original tale and delight and terrify audience after audience.
I feel like it’s one of those shows you have to see to understand its impact. When I tell people it’s effectively two men and a wicker basket, and really scary, I can see why some just look a little confused.
But the way this script is put together, and the way that combines with slick lighting, clever sound effects, and actors of the highest pedigree, ensure it’s a show to be amazed at.
Because I think a lot of the power of the show lies in some of this simplicity, in the fact that it’s superb actors and a brilliant script. The way the language and tension build isn’t down to an all-singing all-dancing performance; it’s down to the skill and expertise of those who are involved.
Currently playing the leads in the London production are father and son duo Tom and Christopher Godwin, who were my favourite pair I’ve seen in the roles so far.
Tom Godwin’s enthusiasm as The Actor and sensitivity in the role of Arthur were spot on, and he moved between the two parts well. Christopher Godwin played the emotion of Arthur Kipps beautifully, and his multiple other characters were a delight to watch. Both men moved between characters seamlessly, and the transitions between the Actor/Arthur scenes and the scenes of the ‘performance’ were well-executed.
The staging of The Woman in Black is clever, and again effective in its simplicity. The hanging gauze creates a perfect effect in front of the scenes played out behind it, and the ramp at the front of the stage allowed for levels and movement enhancing the outside scenes, again cleverly improved with dry ice as the all-encompassing sea mists.
Sound, too, plays a huge part in the show, exemplified best in the fantastic dream sequence of Act Two. The sounds of the letters, the horse and trap, and the rocking chair are ones that haunt for hours after the show has ended.
Timing is key in The Woman in Black, and there’s not much room for error. Whether it’s in the clever scripting, or in the way the lighting and sound pull together, everything has to hit its mark for the tension to not be broken. Moments such as the open door and the blowing out of the candle, or the movement of the spotlights, add to the rising suspense well.
Chilling is definitely a word to be used to describe the show, and the ‘horror’ element comes from the tension. I’m someone who can’t deal with suspense and anticipation, which is why I sit terrified throughout the show, but even if you’re not a wimp like me, you’d struggle to not be affected by the suspense. It is built and maintained so masterfully, and is never ‘cliché’.
The final brilliant element of the show is down to the Susan Hill’s original work: the story. It’s clever and complex, and every moment of the time spent telling it is used to full capacity.
The two hours in the theatre absolutely flew by, and I left as impressed as ever by the skill of all of those involved. I’m sure it won’t be the last time I see the show, and I’m also pretty sure the tension affects me more every single time!
A brilliant production, deserving of all the praise it receives.